I've always been obsessed with going back in time & the other morning I was sorry to miss an especially beautiful sunrise, (I just caught the end of from the window inside) I remember a really beautiful one a year ago when I filmed myself reading Ian Curtis lyrics for a youtube video & I tried thereafter before the rot set in last year of getting up regularly before 5am to see, but never caught another that beautiful.
I still value sunrises & sunsets & phases of the moon, so that is valuable and something to get for, tho I rarely do now as I'm sleeping better as I'm tired all the time. I do value a sunset and though I don't fill my days with adventure, learning, writing, sex, anything really important, I AM still alive and that blessing isn't lost on me particularly with having lost dear, loved friends a lot younger than me in the last 2 years. I feel as guilty about undervaluing life as I do wasting a day. No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn, to quote the Doors song!
I spend a lot of time these days being a sad case watching old tv episodes of Heartbeat, Lewis, Foyle’s War & Robin of Sherwood on some of ITV3 & 4,(although not Frost, Vera, Midsummer or Piorot!) & usually on the +1 channels. Also) These are accompanied by ads targeted at old people where actors cheerfully talk about funeral plans, the funniest being one where whilst a discussion is going on about cremation between father and son, burning toast in the toaster sets the smoke alarm off! A new phenomenon are these instant no fuss cremations, which you might describe as 'pick up & glow' where we're told we can have a party with the money you save from having a depressing old funeral. I quite like this one as the only RIP that funeral directors do is rip off the bereaved.
Anyway the +1 channels simply got to thinking if only there was a remote control where you could go back an hour in time, if no more! Anyway I was inspired to write one of my silly & fairly frequent. #shitterpoems on the site for the first time in a while, (which I won't repeat here as not proud) which inevitably plays on my 'long whinged for need for a squeeze' from a plus one too! Predictably sad.
I haven’t written on here in ages & what I did write on here last year was largely the product of a troubled mind. I do as I’ve said before find therapy in writing. And although these blogs won’t be readable to strangers, nor anyone who knows me for that matter, frequently depressing & self important meanderings as they are still from the heart and have or did aid my mental health. I've tried to write many times since almost a year ago & just abandoned it or just not bothered anyway because I felt just writing about just existing was too introspective even for me. Also there is a worry that negative blogs written on my professional acting website even if no one else is likely to read them don’t reflect on me well to potential employers! Even now I am making myself write something, so this maybe the most boring bit of navel gazing ever committed to my vanity website!
I do want to live & stop appearing to whinge on here about how depressed I am, when there are millions of others feeling like this and to instead try to spread a little joy.
I wrote about depression last year, so there is a sense of plodding over old ground here, but without over dramatics I was more scared than I’d ever been in my life. I feared I’d lost my attachment to life, still do a bit but not quite as much as then. Seemingly I was wallowing in negatives, letting the blues overshadow any chink of positive.
For a number of years after I’d left school, in fact right up to about 10 years ago, I’d have this reoccurring dream about having got behind with a massive backlog of class work at school & I was about to have to face the music. But when I awoke from that dream it was with a huge sense of relief that I’d didn’t have anything to worry about anymore. I’d left school as well, indeed still the happiest day of my life. In reality I’d given up on school than last year 1979-80, certainly didn’t work, sciving off, refusing to wear a blazer & burning my tie! I got well behind in the work, pretended I didn’t care at the time but I guess I worried about being in trouble. So yes a huge weight off my shoulders to leave. It was new beginnings, the first & most exciting crossroads in my life, but sadly I hadn't the courage to meet them, even less think about the best route.
So yes last year I felt life had got on top of me, a backlog of mess, too much to rectify, from teeth to taxes! It seemed like the future was fearful & an escape would be a relief, just like waking up from the bad dream of being behind at school & getting bollocked. Even if that escape meant never waking up!
That seems terrible now the thought of losing my life. I was scared of that thought. I'm not a natural survivor & my greatest fears of last year might seem nothing if I was told I had say cancer or was told I had onset of dementia. Sometimes depression doesn’t let me see straight, far from it, but the feeling of release from burden, worrying & of course suffering is what drives people like me to taking their own lives. I can understand that. Even though I think this is all our only chance of life.
I’ve been lucky with the cards dealt to me in life, best mum & dad you could wish for I think, happy & comfortable childhood, although I only knew my dad 18 years, it was enough to grow a life long attachment & love. My mum has supported me all my life, still is doing so now as I’ve been living rent free in her empty house for the last 13 months. I’m lucky I was born in this country, which in spite of not feeling proud of in the light of recent events & craving reformation in the way we are governed & constitution is still better than a hell of a lot of other places.
I’ve made the mistakes, gone my own way. I don’t regret I tried to become an actor, but I do regret deeply not having real success. I do regret even more deeply not having ever found a woman who loves me as much as I love them and I regret HUGELY not having become a dad.
I want desperately to leave a legacy, to count for something, to be loved & needed, to be profoundly missed. To be loved by a new family as much as I loved my dad. And I do strongly believe I would have been a good dad. It would have made me abandon being so self centred & sorry for myself. To have someone who really depends on me I’d push like I never pushed in life to provide. It would actually be the making of me.
But I’m sure & certain now it will never happen. I’m a very unfit 57, over weight, arthritis affected, steroid dependent & with a prostrate seemingly bigger than my ambition, though not my stomach! I hate myself for having become enormous with such a pregnant belly. I Feel at this rate I’ll be lucky to see my 60s never mind my 70s. Nowhere near long enough to grow & nurture my own family!
At this rate! I know I need to turn my life around, but I don’t know how to or believe I can. There seems to be a depressing inevitability of failure & finality to my life. It’s as if I have given up on all the things important to me, acting & meeting my dream woman. In a nutshell all my dreams, all the important things. In fact not fantasising anymore is the deepest damage, I seem to be incapable of it these days & for someone who’s been fantasising all his life that is a big, big blow.
I have had a good life but now it’s like it’s over. The only pleasures I get today are like I said before the short day to day ones of tv & food too. I know I’m
lucky even to have a roof over my head. Makes me want to shake myself unstupid butI haven’t got the energy to.
This is one of those definite crossroads in my life, and has been for some time as I’ve been stuck in limbo at the junction. But a time is coming when I have to choose a direction & not the direction that ends abruptly in darkness.. hopefully.
Oh give me the strength to turn my life around to believe I can go on, to counter negative depression, rise above affliction, summon powers beyond what I have ever known. To live as I have dreamt to live. Above all give me the strength of purpose.
I’ve often felt that I never gave anything my best shot, not really. If only I hadn’t always lost belief in myself & given up I might be in a different place with acting today., I might have had a family too. With acting I think I got near giving it 100% but it wasn’t for long & certainly not the consistent 110% that I heard Gary Oldman gave at the beginning of his acting. I watched a programme on him the other day & always really rated him one of the best.
I have always lacked self discipline, frequently scorned it, more often just couldn’t be bothered because I’ve told myself I can’t do it or will do it tomorrow. Never do today what you can put off & do tomorrow! I feel I’ve been waiting all my life, in life’s waiting room, I will do that tomorrow when I’m in a better place & lately I’ve been thinking when I get to Weymouth, I’ll paint mermaids, to use my oft cited creative metaphor,: "I want to go to Weymouth & paint mermaids!" But my life is now.
Years ago I wrote a poem called ‘it’s happening to me now’ which tried (& failed) to communicate frustration with myself at seemingly thinking I had years & then I had a lot more than now. I wrote another at about 18 called 'Time on Earth' pleading for time to do all I anted to, so it's certain even at 18 I doubted I could do things. Now I can’t even see much of a future for me, the immense release from not having done the homework does seem tempting..
I know I have to fucking well keep positive, but I can't & frequently don't even want to. I'm bored and tired all the time, I was getting like this even before covid, but this last mad year has made it on steroids, just like me.
Trouble is the things I really need, a lovely woman & a nice acting job, well the lack of them seem like a result of that undone homework come back to haunt me and I never wanted to do my homework, though was scared of the repercussions of not doing it, but after all these years I'm far more scare of ending up alone than of getting bashed for not doing my homework.
IThere’s an oak tree in the middle of field of maze that I try to get to for dawns & sunrises.
Like a quest worthy of Theseus but only pulling the wool across my own eyes
I’m furious and depressed, let's do the fury first of all.
I don’t want to hate and vilify people. My hatred of bullying all my life would see me recoil away from internet hating, trolling, joining in the chorus on something like twitter, I just can’t understand it, I often feel sorry for those at the receiving end of it regardless of their views, so maybe could be accused of misplaced compassion, I don't like hate. However it is a natural emotion. When you're angry, when you're furious it's all too tempting to do join in on the hate on twitter, oh and even more so lately hasn't it become a shamefully ugly and depressing place.
I don't click on hash tag trends anymore as much as I hardly watch any news programmes. I am furious with those who were desperate to govern without any idea actually how to, as well as how the infantile or more correctly backward the dislike/fear of anyone who's different is. Racism comes in all shapes and sizes and colours of skin and we really should have risen above it long, long ago. I just wish I had the skill as well as the intellect of many of the fine people I follow on twitter, and who are the sole reason I bother with it, to properly to take apart such areas that so trouble the world, but as lacking as I am in their incisive language I have to have a go myself here.
My fury here is for my own therapy to get a few things off my chest on an anyway invisible blog on this my vanity website that no one else reads so isn't liable to hurt anyone except perhaps myself.
I am furious that in this mythological disunited kingdom that the covid crises could not have been handled worse. Johnson and his Gollumesque puppeteer Cummings, hence forth known as Cuntings, teeming with arrogance & seething hate working that over stuffed mop headed clown-glove puppet Johnson, hollow inside without his demonic makers presence to give him bumbling artificial form. Assisted by a bloody side show rentamob of pantomime racists & obsequious, smiling grotesques: Gove, Patel, beastly-Mogg, Rahb & Handycock, was there ever a more awful assembly of the worst kind of people in government, presiding callously over lies & obscene grand scale death?
I haven’t felt this angry about government since the darkest days of Thatcher’s heartless regime in the 80s but given the dubious choice between then and now, I’d dig up the mouldering bride of Frankenstein & sit her on the throne instead.
I agreed with Miriam Margolyes who was met with shocked indignation from the all to readily whipped up media pouncing on her for daring to be honest and say that she had wrestled with feelings of not wanting Johnson dead when he was in hospital, now though I’m quite clear that we’d be better off he’d become another statistic of his & his masters utter complacency & neglect.
I have never been taken in by the shit that is Boris Johnson, he was a clueless menace as mayor, who sold off the skyline of London to obscenely rich investors, and wasted millions on a bridge that was never even built, by way of wasting money on buses etc. He has always been up to his shit stained underpants in self interest, narcissism and privilege. About the only thing this woefully unfunny clown is good at seemingly is getting women pregnant to the extent he couldn’t even say how many children he has.
Johnson is the problem, the sickeningly artificial, cuddly brand that lulls everyone in when they call him just ‘Boris’. Boris is harmless because he’s a likeable bumbling buffoon who’ll get stuck on trip wires & play the joker, whilst his devious, starey eyed master soft peddles his nazi eugenics & racism. Boris can’t cope without Cuntings and his master is nowt without his glove puppet, though he clearly has delusions of grandeur, just lapping up all the attention he got sat in Downing Street’s garden with the press seemingly hanging on his every word was a nauseating spectacle. Johnson as has been seen time and time again is just a deflated, stuttering mess with a bit of school boy Latin without his master, so I say again, better that the fucker had died, then at least the comical, abominable Snow Rabbit from the old Warner Bros Bugs Bunny cartoon, wouldn’t be there to make palatable Cuntings new sinister brand of Conservatism that’s worthy of the EDL.
Anyone else in the aforementioned cabinet of the curiously awful wouldn’t have been able to con so many and Cuntings would be justly banished into political exile for breaking all the rules & not even caring if anyone believes his eccentric covering story but contemptuously trotting it out anyway because he is so confident he’d get away with it. Were it not for Cintings, we might have been saved the further untold miseries ahead of effectively imposing economic sanctions on ourselves with the hateful Brexshit plan. Totally unbelievable that these poor excuse for human beings have helped make this country one of the worst affected in the world for the covid virus with to date truthfully over 60, 000 excess deaths, dreadful term, 'excess deaths.' The stupid, stupid cunt Johnson going off on holiday in February when the pandemic had weeks before alerted and other countries were taking defensive measures, (serious speculation now suggests that if we’d acted early up to a third of those lives could have been saved, which is truly shocking) and of particular shameful and scandalous neglect, I would say is the sacrifice of the elderly in care homes. Imagine if they’d stuck to herd immunity at the outset as no doubt Cuntings wanted, just think how many thousands more would have died. Politics dressed up as science has led their apathy all along. These murderous cunts have blood on their hands.
I am furious with anyone who voted for these cunts, furious with the crap two party, first who legs it past the post, voting system that put them there, furious with the outdated houses of parliament, that should just be a museum and instead a reworked modern Proportional representation parliament should be instead located somewhere like Manchester or Birmingham, furious with Jeremy Corbyn for letting everyone down who saw him as a beacon of hope as he was such a weak and stupid cunt particularly over Brexshit which he wanted, more furious with the press, so powerfully by and large loyal to the establishment and unquestioning of it’s incompetence.
Anyone trusting the governments advice now on anything would probably trust a stranger coming to the door and saying I’ll mind your house if you want to go on holiday, I wouldn't trust them to burst a balloon in a needle factory that had been infested with hedgehogs!
And where do I even start about the dumb nazi in the White House? Beyond analysis the reasons why the cunt is stoking the flames of racism, after the sickening and deeply upsetting murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, his last conscious moments filmed as the so called protector of law and order inexplicably knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes, a disgusting spectacle more reminiscent of torture than law enforcement. President Cunt routinely uses heavily armed riot police to break up peaceful demonstrations shamelessly breaking their first amendment right to peacefully protest. Even Johnson in a rare moment of truth before he became prime minister described Cunt-Trump as completely unfit to be president, and being supremely unfit for pm he should know. Of course our dangerous clown of a pm now in an even for him, staggeringly ill informed & insensitive way describes the US as a bastion of peace & freedom in the week when peace & freedom never seemed further from the American dream!
Trump is a dreadful creature, the worst excesses of everything bad, from orange blusher to white supremacist! Isn't it always bizarre that white supremacists from Hitler & Himmler to Trump are the complete antithesis of being physically supreme, state of those cunts. What racism really all about is fear and cowardice, ugly little shit stirrers who have to make an unpleasant noise to stop themselves pooing their pants about their very insignificance.
If I was a black woman or a man in America, I’d be terrified. The police are systemically racist and I’d never trust them. I’d be so angry at the moment I’d be blaming the establishment and smashing the windows of Maceys department store to see what things I could never afford.
America for all it’s mythology of being the land of the free, still denies it’s vast majority freedom through obscene inequality and racism. It is an incredibly divided country, never has a country been named so badly that has the word United in it, united in racism against Black & hispanic Americans, a country that was founded on the gun and violence, the genocide of native Americans and the seizure of their land, and giving it to white European immigrants only, not to black people once emancipation of slaves had occurred.
What do you do with America? Start again, it needs radical change, the kind of change that might push it to civil war, like taking away their guns, racism like the gun is engrained in the USA regrettably and depressingly under dangerous imbecile President Cunt it has regressed to it’s worst instincts again after so many improvements had been made.
When I was in junior school I loved history, the Romans, the Vikings particularly, by senior school mistrust of school had seeped in, hatred was to follow after woeful neglect to nurture, brutality and physical abuse. History like everything else became a casualty. I do though remember a teacher, I think she was called Mrs Pimlott in a humanities lesson, playing a recording of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech. I was maybe 12 or 13 I think but I remember it’s power.
Dr King has fascinated me all my life and last night I watched a reading broadcast on The Royal Exchange Theatre's youtube channel of 'The Mountaintop' by Katori Hall, a truly beautiful play set on the eve of Dr King being murdered in Memphis in 1968. So brilliantly acted & realised, definitely the most powerful reading I have ever seen. If you're reading this I urge you to check out.
Anyway back to school, I don’t remember much analysis in the lesson of the civil rights movement, but I do vividly remember the name Rosa Parks and the infamous bus incident. I couldn’t understand why black people were being treated so badly. We only touched on this area, without any context about the deeper, darker history behind it, that of the slave trade. Slavery was just not talked about at the time, we were taught about how much Britain had given to the world and the industrial revolution and with gleaming pride how we were the greatest empire the world had ever known.
I remember my older sister talking about British imperialism in South Africa and I think that was the fist hint I got that all was not as shiny as it seemed with Great Britain and her empire. Also Roots was on tv in the late 70s, the series about slavery. It was uncomfortable, I didn’t like it, it was like is this real did that really happen? Did they really treat other human beings this badly? Surely not , it was an unpleasant eye opener, a rude awakening, a guilty disgusting secret behind British empire glorification and everyone was seemingly in denial about it.
I was growing up though in the 70s where black people were the object of humour on television nightly, comic racism was common place and seemed cosy without malice behind it. I don’t remember a single black or even mixed race person at the Poynton County Shite School where I did time between 1975-1980. In the Vernon junior school previously, there was one black lad, not in my year but above and my only memory of him was that he was frog marched out of assembly every morning to stand in a corridor outside. His daily crime? He was a muslim, first time I heard that word, no attempt was made in the Christian assembly to explain why he had to be removed so insensitively, inevitably to impressionable minds he must be bad by nature. I remember feeling sorry for him and I’ve never forgotten that. I had friends in school who referred to black people in the same way that the popular sitcom ‘Love thy Neighbour’ did, or the way inexplicably popular Jim Davidson did, and I admit I probably went along with it to fit in, thinking it was funny, without understanding that it was racist abuse. One thing though I’m proud I never joined in with was any kind of bullying.
Of course any lads or girls for that matter who were perceived wea, not what was expected of their sex or came from poor backgrounds were bullied. I wasn't bullied but I was made fun of, I felt for anyone who was bullied and would never join in the chorus just t fit in as so many did, and so was as a consequence vilified myself. I hated bullying & bullies very early on, gave me. lifelong suspicion of gang culture, right up to internet trends, because for all my many faults, one fault I didn’t have, was a lack of compassion for people and for that I was called a puff!
I loved action man when I was a kid and had about ten of them and was still loving reenacting my own film dramas with them in WW2 uniforms until I was about 14, (I guess I was a backward kid, certainly by todays standards), in the wonderful, magical garden of Fleetway, 66 Dickens Lane where I grew up.. I had a black action man called Tom Stone, who I thought was brilliant, but some of my friends. Really had it in for him and would have the Germans strip him and torture him, eventually pull his limbs off much to my disgust. I remember one lad throwing him across the garden saying something like..why have you got this?
I use this as symbolic for the hate they seemed to have for this black character, a hate I just couldn’t understand, of course it was dressed up as humour and I may have had a laugh at the nig nog or Sambo name calling as much as Honkie from Love thy Neighbour, which although it was schoolboy immaturity, I feel remorse for now, but I quite honestly though could never understand the hate or fear that a lot of the other white lads displayed. Was it hate, was it fear dressed up as humour, casual racism that was so widespread across the tv I grew up with where, the only black actors were Rudolph Walker and Don Warrington on the receiving end of white bigots and I guess without apologising at least the writers didn’t let the white bigots get the upper hand, in fact they came across as idiots. I definitely detected fear and hate in my classmates above the schoolboy humour.
I still had the Tom Stone action man upon until about 10 years ago with a few others, he was in bits but I had still kept him, despite giving the vast majority of the others away, maybe because he was so damaged nobody would want him. Then I heard that the figure was a sought after collectors item, that not many had survived intact, so I tried to restore him with the limbs of another broken white figure and torso, did quite a good job then put him on ebay, clearly stating and showing pics of the mish-mash of parts and someone in South America bought him in a bidding war for almost £40. Bless Tom Stone!
As I said I didn’t grow up around any black or asian people in the 70s so I didn’t have their experience, apart from hearing about the civil rights movement in the US, I wasn’t really aware first hand of racism here and the first time I had real contact with anyone black was my first foray into acting with Manchester Youth Theatre when I was 19. We were divided into pairs to do an improv about high status/low status, and this really nice lad, I can’t remember his name suggested I play a policeman and he someone the cop was stopping & searching. I always remember he said to me, “Call me a black bastard, don’t worry, don’t hold back!” Which kind of shocked me, but I did as he suggested, felt bad, even though we were acting, apologised to him afterwards even though the abuse had been his suggestion, he was warm and friendly, not even a trace of bitterness. It was only afterwards it struck me that this was almost certainly all in his experience, he’d clearly experienced police harassment and abuse and without even wanting to highlight the issue just suggested it as a truth in our dramatisation.
Not long after I shared a flat in Levenshulme, Manchester with two girls and when I rang the advert to see if I could come round and view the room, the girl on the phone said matter of factly, without a hint of bitterness again, “Just to let you know I’m black!” Which again really surprised me that she thought it worth saying, that might be a problem, a deal breaker. But again, sadly it was obviously in her experience. Boy I seriously needed educating about the black experience, but then all white people back then did and shockingly still do apparently.
Racism is institutional in this so called Great Britain, it always has been, the trappings of Britains colonial past attached to that racism are everywhere, not just in some statues and names of public buildings, but in parliament itself. From the days of slave owners and the profits of slavery financing building development in our big cities right up to the Windrush scandal and the dreadful hostile environment policy of just a few years ago. That colonialism goes right to the top of our system, emblematic in the monarchy and the very honours system itself. What is needed is radical reform. A written constitutional setting out everyones rights, the jettison of all colonial trappings including the commonwealth, parliament itself.
I've never liked statues, always seen them as ghostly representations of people, dark & cold in bronze like grave yard memorials, from my childhood they were always of military men and something stern and unsympathetic about them. Of course in the last 20 years we have had statues of contemporary, non militaristic figures and some beautiful representations like my favourite Molly Malone in Dublin, love her, she has a real power, and is a notable exception. Generally speaking though I'm not keen on them, it's such an out of date way of commemoration.
As a tour guide which I was for many years up until this February in fact, they are useful tools of context and as such I'm wary about this discussion about removing them. I don't foist my views on anyone, including my mistrust of the royals, and most of the statues in somewhere like London just aren't worthy of note because without a statue they'd be forgotten.
History is important, but it's as important to re evaluate a statue as it is to honestly re evaluate a famous person in a biography. The establishment as in the dominant conservative figures in newspapers and tv got scared, angry when a group of people in a well organised demo pulled a statue down in Bristol of a hitherto forgotten 17th century merchant who’d prospered out of the slave trade, a statue put up in the late Victorian era where his sins had apparently been whitewashed to that of philanthropist. The statue should have been taken down a few years ago when protests in Bristol were first made. Concerns of airbrushing history are worth considering though and you can’t pick and choose your villain. Many historical figures that I grew up being taught to revere like Thomas More and MK Gandhi are I’m afraid tarnished from proper research. (and it is crucial to do proper research not just follow twitter trends).
Cecil Rhodes though not revered in my lifetime was definitely a white supremacist and II suspect his stature looking down from Oriel College, Oxford will go, but then he as no worse a imperialist than Churchill.
Churchill I'm afraid has become a hugely mythologised figure, it is right that he was undoubtedly the man of the hour in 1939, but he has been eulogised beyond belief into this heroic figure who we cannot dare to criticise. My own dear dad who joined up in the RAF in 1939 In remember surprised me in telling me he was no fan of Churchill, and I think it's myth that all servicemen revered him.
His reputation has been elevated to hero who did no wrong and was loved by all in such movies as The Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman, which I thought was a terrible film. His deeds are just as checkered as that of Rhodes if you care to educate yourself properly about him. I don't believe his monstrous statue, (he resembles a misshapen monster like one of the Sontaran's out of Dr Who with a hunchback giants frame), should be removed, but it's important not to airbrush out his considerable transgressions which I'm afraid in the end do outweigh his laudable standing up to Hitler. The outrage of ‘Churchill was a racist’ being daubed on his statue palpable and that cunt Johnson is already at time of writing making political capital out of the statue being boarded up to protect it, an act itself designed I'm sure to outrage the racists and feed into their hate.
What happened in Bristol was understandable and the taking down of some in London, and I think Rhodes likeness will eventually go, but I worry that the whole statues issue is distracting from real change happening, something I think that Cuntings government are already cynically exploiting as a way to divert attention from their complete fuck up of the country over their neglect to act sooner over covid.
No I'm afraid pulling the statues isn't going to change the behaviour of dyed in the wool racists across society today, rather only enflame them further, but I can hugely empathise with it.
Racism is systemic in Britain and Brexit got to the core of it, the whole vote leave campaign got away with it’s dodgy dealings, lies, manipulation of the truth because too many people bought into almost hidden racist agenda, the same racist agenda that they buy into in America when they chant "Make America Great again!”
Inequality is rampant in Britain and the most unequal are the black & ethnic communities who it’s no coincidence have been hit hardest in the covid pandemic. Life is still structured towards privilege in the UK. Look at how many public school boys and one or two girls have positions of power in governments, look at the institutions that govern us from Westminster to the law and those who administer sporting events. I took against the injustice when I was in my rebellious late teens 40 years ago and although much new positive agenda’s of fairness and equality have been dressed, depressingly still so little has actually changed, so little empathy in those who have power, even Patel the home secretary, a Pakistani girl, racially abused as she has said, she knew and suffered racism but power has seemingly corrupted her not to understand peoples frustrations at it that make them want to destroy statues and lash out and anyway it was only a minority that did lash out against the police, the minority that you get on all marches that want to take advantage.
What Patel shows despite the horrible racism she endured, is a lack of empathy, which seems to go with the territory, following on from the two previous women, May and Rudd who held the positions and who were the instigators of hostile environment, and that is hugely depressing. Empathy is a fine word and is chronically lacking in our politicians, particularly though not exclusively the conservative ones, shamelessly so in fact.
Black lives matter is not a thing to say as lightly and meaninglessly as Johnson does, it sits awkward, it's a dreadful statement to have to make anyway, a shameful admission. It's been a very long journey which this particular white man in his own little bubble can only barely imagine. How are we going to educate the mindless, poorly educated idiot who hates as much as the privileged, highly educated idiot. The playground hatred hasn't left those that left the playground too long ago, from subtle discrimination to overt frenzied hate, from the football crowd to the Bullingdon Club and that needs full attention to try to educate, shame and criminalise, no half measures.
Hate & violence are inexcusable ways of standing to the hate of racism and that is not a way out of this, in fact it will only perpetuate the racism people are understandably lashing out against. I've never liked gang culture but I try to understand it as a reaction against poverty, injustice and just not mattering, the safety in numbers thing, but it's so important that humanity and compassion must override our anger, and that no one becomes so hate filled that they're hardened to inhumanity. I was living in East London in the summer of 2011 and the riots that spread from Tottenham in the aftermath of the killing of Mark Duggan, it was scary, people were losing it and taking out their anger on anyone including those like myself making their way home from work on the tube and buses. It was a complete fuck up of an arrest by the met police that left Mark Duggan dead, but the reaction went beyond rioting to a violent tension the like of which I had never experienced before.
I am of course all too aware I started off this blog entry not being able to resist hating Boris Johnson and wishing him dead, and seeing myself out rioting if I felt so desperately unheard and unimportant, so I am not in any way sitting in judgement of that kind of hate that makes you want to lash out. I'm just lashing out as therapy on a vanity website that is barely noticed. We are all human and get angry but self control is ultimately vital.
I've a strong and positive feeling that we're not going to forget the name of George Floyd, that he's not just going to be another name on a t shirt as someone said last night, and his last words "'I can't breathe" will live to haunt the racist ghouls, it's going to be tough in America with all their thousands of police forces and hateful racists and Trumps won't just vanish and this probably won't be the last brutal murder at the hands of police, and here in Britain the mindset of the police who when intervening in a altercation will still stop and search a black guy before a white one is going to be a knee jerk reaction that needs almost a physical revolution as much as a cultural one.
I watched scenes of a memorial for George Floyd when Sam Cooke's beautiful 'A Change is gonna come' was played, and I started crying, I loved that song when I was younger without really realising what it meant, and the fact that it was released in the year of my birth 1964 and that change is still to come.
and now the depressed bit...
A week last Saturday, I slept most of the day, I haven’t been sleeping much since the beginning of this year anyway, but on Saturday I could only sleep. Without self dramatisation which I admit can find it’s way into my darkest feelings, Saturday and building up this last week, I have definitely had the darkest feelings I have ever felt. I was scared of those feelings and I needed to sleep them off. Sleep for me has become a reaction to the weight of impossibly bleak feelings, an absolute necessity, I’m sleeping more, though not necessarily well at the mo.
Now I’m a bit of a goth, gothic sensibility more than wearing eyeliner and steampunk punk clothing, though I love those kind of clothes, I think a lot about death, love Shelley & Emily Bronte, the Cure & Joy Division , and often an overcast sky to blazing sunshine, but the kind of dark feelings I’m sorry to say I refer to are nothing good, nothing creative or inspirational, in fact the polar opposite.
Like so many others I’m sure, I’ve felt on my own in the covid crises, like a survivor from a nuclear war, well a survivor that receives Iceland and amazon deliveries every week or two. I’m not a survivor really, all my life when I’ve endured hardship, as I have for the majority of my time on earth, I’ve always had my dear mum to bung me £20 or more when I’ve been at my lowest and to stop me becoming homeless.
I don’t know, I imagined that although in denial of it that depression has haunted me for years and I’ve not wanted to admit to it for fear of being perceived as weak, but this year I have undoubtedly experienced something new, a a hollow despair that frightens me. I read this quote a few days ago on twitter…
“Depression isn’t just about feeling sad at the state of the world. It is a total inner collapse of your self. A free fall where your every thought is whether you have the stamina for another day of pain. It is primarily internal. It is not simply being sad about stuff.”
This really spoke to me as I instantly recognised myself, not just mere sadness, the blues, melancholy as I undoubtedly have been, but the real, palpable near giving up. It’s really shaken me up and my whole view of mental illness.
I suspect thousands are suffering from depression, thousands like me are completely on their own. I haven’t had a face to face in person chat with anyone I know and love for over 2 and a half months and the longest I’ve even chatted to a stranger is a couple of minutes to thank them for a home delivery. I’ve talked on the phone every week to some of my dear nieces and occasionally to friends. I never ring anyone, because I don’t know what to say, or rather don’t want the inevitable platform to whinge how bad things are for me. I ve been on my own in my mums house in deepest, darkest Cheshire, beautiful if wildly overgrown garden, though I’ve pushed a manual, roller mower across the lawn every week or two and cut down the odd nettle or piece of indestructible ground elder, barely to make a difference, gardening is not something I gain any pleasure from, in any case gardening is always seems more killing things than nurturing them! I’m fighting a daily battle with depression so debilitating that it will not let me see the good or purpose in anything. I’ve been trying to write this all this last week but couldn’t. I couldn’t/still can’t really write with any confidence. I also tried loads of silly poems and things to get me through the last few weeks of the last month, but had to abandon them because they were shit or just couldn’t see any good in it.
I’m scared I can’t do the things I want, that I don’t know how to and haven’t got the belief that I can do them anyway. I feel as though I’m drowning in the mess that my life has become, that there is not one area of my life that isn’t messed up. I worry that i’m fucked. And that even when this is over, it isn’t going to be, for the far reaching effects of the degenerative self harm, equally physical & mental will be with me. I’m scared of my future.
My body has suffered through lack of exercise & my mind through lack of stimulus & hope. I have been thinking about my death and my biggest, lifelong fear to die alone, with no one who I have met in life to love me and not having done anything I wanted to do on earth, or done anything in any way to help anyone else.
I have had an awful feeling for some time now that I won’t live til old age, that I won’t even reach 62, which was my dads age when he died. When you’re scared of the future you don’t want to, even though you can still have flickering dreams of a happier scenario. The way I’m neglecting my body and the wallowing in despair is almost testing this. My friend Therese several weeks ago said she thought that I might be pushing myself to see how far I could go, to see how far I could push myself. I haven’t given up completely and this weekend seems like a new dawn after last weekends bleak sunset, although I touch wood very heavily here, mindful of how easily the worst thoughts could seep back into me.
I go for almost daily walks at dawn, to see sunrises, it comforts me to see sunrises. it is the best time of the day across the earthy plateau of maise seedlings at first light and then sit down and watch the first appearance of the sun, then I go back to bed. The difficulty is later on in the day from about 1pm. It’s like it’s all downhill from there. I went to look at a few sunsets too, but didn’t find them as comforting, it’s like the passage of the day is a metaphor for life, although sunsets can be far more beautiful than sunrises, I hope that means something. I have no faith, although I have always counted myself a spiritualist, someone who senses more to things than meets an eye, an agnostic as opposed to an atheist.
I don’t know how many times I say to myself “Dear God, help me, or I talk to my dad, apologising for being such weak son and wishing he was here, telling my recently departed friend Sharron, how much I miss her as well, and my mums dear little shih tzu Maisie who should be here still, but I have no conviction they can hear me.
I don’t think I believe in a life, a consciousness after death anymore, even though I desperately want to, particularly sensing more than ever my own mortality. It seems more a wishful thinking fantasy than ever, leaving aside the science of what neuro transmitters etc enable that very consciousness in the first place, energy I was once told doesn’t just not exist it goes on, but I am not intelligent enough to grasp science and the best I can hope is for “There are more things in heaven and Earth philosophy. Do you know I’m not even sure by and large we human beings would deserve one after the travesty we’ve made of this one. I see the beautiful wild bees buzzing on the bushy hedge and wonder whether they need to dream of a life beyond, and they for all their life enhancing qualities richly deserve it more than we do.
With all the death, anxiety and uncertainty and the quality of all our lives so considerably reduced these days, I do think we need something to believe in, and the philosophy that my dear friend Therese puts forward that if we believe in what we want it will be true and that none of this is real anyway. So if I believe in mermaids and witches is that my heaven?
I do love life, but I don’t love mine. I feel sorry for myself, but not always in a ooh poor me kind of way, but more I look at myself in the mirror, or more often in one of the photos I am always obsessively taking of myself, and I see a body that I am occupying, that’s not too bad looking, or didn’t used to be, tall, compassionate, kind and caring, with a fucking great taste in music and films and I say to myself sorry. Sorry for not being kinder to myself, sorry for the neglect of my body with no exercise for over 2 months. Sorry for all the times I’ve had a go at myself, treated myself disrespectfully, wasted my own time and been too stupid to not recognise opportunities that may have made me happier.
When I go out walking in the dawn or the beautiful, wild garden or even on the surface look at my books and records, and old sentimental toys that I gave personality to, I think how awful not to have this, while there is still the glimmer of a promising dawn that represents the hope for my two most wanted quests in life, to find love & strength in a woman and to make myself and others proud of me as an actor, how can I lose that possibility. But I almost wish that I didn’t see any good in anything, that there was no flame to be extinguished, that life and nature held no flicker of joy for me. That the sun before the new dawn fades wasn’t so lovely.
I recorded myself doing Ian Curtis’s lyrics to the song of that name on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Ian’s suicide on 18th of May, inspired by seeing Maxine Peake similarly doing She’s Lost Control on a special evening of events broadcast online that I watched on the evening of the 18th. I was quite pleased with the result recorded with the backdrop of the most beautiful dawn I have seen of late, and put it on instagram, twitter and youtube (I’ve come off facebook at the mo, became unhappy with it) but if the purpose of doing was to get attention, which of course it was, it failed, although a few lovely people said some nice things.
As I said, one of the most worrying things is that I haven’t even been able to talk to anyone about this because I worry sounding miserable when talking to others, worry being viewed as a liability if I go on too much about how awful everything is when everyone is going through the same thing and equally worry how weak I would look. Then of course I worry what psychological self harm I’m doing to myself in not allowing myself to talk as it would most assuredly do myself good. That’s an awful lot of worrying.
All my life I’ve lacked confidence/courage. (In the last week I have even lamented the fact that I haven’t the courage to end my life). ‘The nerve’ has alway been allusive to me. I found an outlet in acting where I could have courage, courage in performance. A problem was at first doing this in front of others, when at first I played parts on my own. (I still do my best acting when on my own),it took me all my 20s to find this and then of course the life long problem has been getting the opportunities to do this.
I have been listening, reading, watching to the work to 4 famous talents, who’s lives were cut short in their 20’s, Ian Curtis, Stu Sutcliffe, Nick Drake & James Dean. As well as hugely rating them, Ive always been obsessed with these young men who were genius but then in the case of Ian & possibly Nick too, took their own lives thru depression basically. I think I desperately wanted success, fame, accolades and more importantly their incredible talent in my 20s and have always admired those who seemingly cram a whole lifetime into a short number of years, and the apparent awareness of only a very short time to do stuff, seemingly unafraid that they might push it too far & that would be the end of them, either in an accident, haemorrhage or suicide.
it might suggest that are lives are predetermined in some way, though I have of course cited 4 extremely high profile individuals & for every Ian Curtis theres someone who we’ll never know the name of who died too young without ever doing anything like what they wanted, not to mention children who never made it beyond infancy. So it really is all too random for this to ever make sense. I’ve always had a gothic obsession with death, reading Shelley poems, fascinated by the Bronte’s, particularly Emily, I’ve always fantasised about gothic, witchy girls and used to like wandering around old grave yards reading tombstones.
For the first time in my life I have given up hope in acting & love & I always thought that then when i would, life wouldn’t be worth it. Love particularly is and always has been the single most source of depression for me. As recently as last Autumn I was dating a woman I met on tinder, but it fell apart, she was a bit messed up, thought I was going to peg out on her, just because I was a little red faced and out of breath after climbing up The Edge at Alderley to meet her at the Wizard pub.
I’ve always lacked strength, fantasised about a woman in my life who would give me strength. I don’t mean look after me, I mean just be there to make me strong for myself as much as her. I want to look after someone, to have someone who depends on me, someone to be kind and giving too. Being on my own for almost 3 months has magnified how depressed I get when I've only got myself to think about. I am not one of life's natural loners, despite appearances. I don't have Maisie anymore, very sadly, no cat, I only can take a little delight in buying bird seed to put out every morning and try to imagine, now matter how far fetched it is, the birds depending on me every morning for a little bit of breakfast!
All of this I have craved for too long. I imagine the all consuming love of a woman would give me purpose, but even this may be a fantasy. I have always had these gothic fantasies about intense mutual love, as I’ve said before I blame reading Wuthering Heights when I was 14 for shaping my fantasies!
The problem is it’s like I’ve never matured in my romantic life, that is I still have the passionate intensity of the teenager in love & I haven’t had the years of experience of living with a woman, it has always been a dream.
I guess I might have been married and divorced by now with grown up kids but then I’d have been a very different person. I’d have been a very different person with a regular woman in my life... well i mean constant not normal, normal wouldn’t cut it, she’d have to be a bit crazy to go out with me.
I want to meet a woman and get married, but this is surely now as much of a fantasy as acting glory. Anyway in the end we are all alone and those of us lucky to meet a partner to walk through life with, last through practicalities not through romantic whims, and an awful lot of people are alone.
please don’t let me die before that happens, that I’ll never be anyones love of their life is the saddest thing I’ll ever think or say. I always have been obsessed with leaving some kind of legacy behind, all the old films and music I love the talent behind them long since gone, but then very much alive in the emotions they stimulate in their recorded work.I’m sure I should be not so bothered about making such a big noise, but instead caring more about doing things that are kind and considerate and help people without them even knowing it, without having to be remembered because of something wonderful and life enhancing, but the equal if not more importance of a less showy legacy. I wish I could be content at that I really do, but I don’t think I will be. Beautiful sentiment all the same and true.
“When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle and yet most of the audience still sleeps.”
Anyway I’ll end with a sunrise and that’s the most poetic, (I hope not prophetic), thing I’ve said in months.
I am so bored I can barely write, in fact having just writ those words am seriously thinking what’s even the point of writing a blog entry when I always said to myself that I’d only write one when I had something to write about. I’m suffering from depression and it’s hard to be interested in anything when you are drowning in this.
In this last week I’ve been trying to engage my mind away from wallowing in despair and self pity and a couple of cultural things have distracted me, Shakespeare Inspired by the girls at Open Bar theatre who I worked for in 2016 in Twelfth Night and wrote about then here who wanted past actors who worked with them to join in by filming yourself performing a little ditty to mark Shakespeare’s birthday, after having put a table and chairs out in mums beautifully overgrown garden in her house where I am alone isolating myself and carrying on the beer drinking, (I’d managed to get a slot in Iceland’s home delivery for essentials), I thought to film myself doing a few well known Shakespeare pieces with a beer, hash tagged Shakesbeer in the garden! And did a couple put them on facebook and instagram then got bored and frustrated at how little attention my anyway attention seeking attempt had received, so abandoned a sonnet as anyway I kept inexplicably mispronouncing the word ‘impediments’ Might attempt again if I can be bothered to get out of bed for enough daylight hours!
I want to do things, I suppose that is something as opposed to not, but just can’t be bothered!
There aren’t many moments I can recall in vivid detail from Birmingham School of Screech & Trauma, and I certainly can’t recall learning an awful lot, but I remember well the first moment I met Sharron Byrne.
"Hi I’m Shaz" she said to me in her rich, deep, well spoken, sexy voice, looking me up and down, she was at once vibrant, beautiful and a little terrifying!
She wore dark clothes, shirt & leggings & had long, luxurious, brunette hair with a bit of a perm to it. I was 30 she was 20, although she looked youthful and indeed retained that youthful look & spirit all of the 26 years I have known her. Her whole demeanour, not just her voice, suggested a more mature sophistication, Shaz was a classy girl!
She reminded me a little of Helena Bonham Carter in the face, same angular jaw & as I got to know her & see how fine an actress she was, she also brought to mind a young Bette Davis with all the passionate intensity & flashing eyes. Ah but Shaz was really her own unique self though!
In our class of 1994 there were not unluckily 13 girls and 7 lads including me.
I remember Shaz as the definite alpha female in the group! If we are comparing it to Rydell High in Grease, Shaz was very definitely the leader of the Pink Ladies, Rizzo! Toni, Shaz’s best mate would be Riz’s right hand girl Marty, er…gets a bit more difficult then, because we had slightly more Pink Ladies than in the film! Either Jo or Leesa was Frenchy and Ondine was Jan! They ruled the skool! My old mate Tasha would be Rizzo’s contender in the formidable stakes, Cha-Cha, boyf of the Scorpions head honcho, (“what did she give him? A lock of hair…. from her chest!”), and Amy who was a very pretty, lovely girl, was definitely Sandy, definitely not allowed in the Pink Ladies!
In the lads I think Kevin Tucker would think he was Danny Zuko and Gareth? Gaz would be Danny’s wingman, Kenickie. Me? I was more Coach flippin’ Calhoun!!!
Although I loved Olivia in the original film, Rizzo played by Stockard Channing always held an allure, a good bad girl. Formidable, sexy and dangerous. Not to be messed with with, but a secret fantasy, just like Shaz!
Toni reminds me that it was Gaz in our year who coined the nickname ’Satan’ for her. Shaz wasn’t offended in the least, but rather turned it on it’s head and revelled in it with a pride that said “Yeah don’t fuck with me!” Toni came to use it as term of endearment for her, but it was still something I never dared call her!
I was about 10 years older than everyone, not that I played the age card at all well, I was rubbish with women before doing acting gave me a bit of confidence, and seemingly when it did, I only became confident at being a twat! According to Tasha, who's always been a good friend to me, at that time I had a bit of a mullet, looked like Nick Cave, (although from looking at old pics I think more Shane McGowan), and a propensity for wearing jogging pants that didn’t show my willy off to it’s best advantage!!!:D So I’m not sure what Shaz thought of me.
Indeed in the first of our three years at Birmingham, aside from seeing her everyday in school (and boy was it run like a primary school), I don’t really remembe hanging out with Shaz. I was definitely not cool enough to mix with the Pink Ladies, more’s the pity!
Funnily enough, considering how much we both liked a drink over the years, she wasn’t like me one of the regulars down the unofficial drama school pub, the ironically named ‘Unspoilt by Progress’ in the concrete 1960’s precinct just off Fiveways in Brum, (and where I was eventually barred!), I think The Pink Ladies did their drinking somewhere far more cooler. We weren’t assigned to work together in scenes or shows that we put on in the famed Regency Room of the Georgian house on Church Road, Edgbaston that served as BSSD’s main HQ. The Regency Room where the height of technological advances to enhance our performance was a dimmer switch on the chandelier!
As first years we had to stage manage final & second year shows at was called the Apex theatre, the pokey former billiard room of the old Georgian house, and there was a much larger space at an old dance hall several miles away in real ‘Peaky Blinder’ country, Smallheath or as I remember Shaz calling it, Smelly Heath! I wonder what the Shelby brothers would have made of that? My guess she’d have taken them on, or bonded with them, she’d certainly have been a rival to Helen McCrory’s formidable Helen Gray character!
My aversion to dance became legendary, well more the stuff of hilarity and despair in equal measure. When we were streamed according to ability, advanced, intermediate or basic, they had to invent a whole new group below basic for me and Tasha as well, (she didn’t quite have Cha-Cha’s moves), which was unofficially christened ‘The Sunshine Group!’
The teachers just gave up on me at the end of the first year as a bad lot and I sold my tap & jazz shoes to a first year by the start of our second. However I had learnt to do a basic tap dance time step and all because of Shaz!
She was very funny and I remember her sympathising with me over my tap dancing anxiety, just before I gave it up. There was a rhyme that Vicki Maxine the tap dance teacher taught everyone to do this basic step...
But Shaz had a much better rhyme that she’d come up with directed at Miss Maxine’s unpopularity particularly with the girls that she’d always have a go at...
Oh whenever I’d remind her of that in the years later, she’d find it hysterical and was really pleased I’d remembered it, although I’m not sure I could remember the time step to go along with it now Shaz!
By the second year we’d bonded. I do remember she had the idea that we share a birthday celebration as ours were just 2 weeks apart which was lovely. We were both vegetarian which back in those days was less common, and we both loved the Smiths. Most importantly we had become a mutual admiration society in acting, something we were to remain always, Shaz was always my greatest supporter in acting & I like to think I was hers.
I was truly bowled over by her, she had a real old school presence about her, huge watchability, a chameleon like ability to change herself dramatically in look and only a part of that was make up and hair. Most wonderful of all she had the most fabulous singing voice.
I’ll forever hear her singing ‘I love Paris’ In her rich dark contralto voice to rival Ella Fitzgerald’s famous version. She originally sang this in a second year production we did called ‘Cole Porter Songbook’ and would later sing at our drama school showcase in London.
I was cast as the narrator in that show, not allowed to sing anything! (Singing is the thing that most embitters me about the school as I went from the getting top marks amongst the lads in the school to almost lowest after they’d fired & not replaced the singing teacher, a guy who I remember Shaz christened Fonzie as he had the definite look of Henry Winkler and wore a leather jacket. She was always good at coming up with nicknames for people!
I was struck by how such an attractive woman could play with ease, unflattering and often male characters, this mainly because the short sighted choice of plays with a heavy bent towards male characters, and the girls would often have to play male roles, without a thought amongst the directors, (even the women) of adapting them as female, or more often doubling up on the female roles, so that in production one girl would be on one night and another girl in the same role the next! This was very odd because there were a lot more girls than lads on the course as there always where at drama schools, in fact one of the main reasons I wanted to go to drama school in the first place!
Shaz though seemed to revel though in playing a succession of unflattering blokes roles extremely well, from a thuggish but well dressed football hooligan in Arrivederci Millwall, (I played the skinhead leader), to the treacherous & pompous King Alonso in what was possibly the worst as well as campest version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest ever committed to stage, where I had fun wearing mascara and a skirt as the jester Trinculo, while doing the gayest Scots accent ever!
Oh and not to mention Fanshen! David Hare’s play. Oh bloody hell! Travesty amongst travesties even at Birmingham, with us all playing Chinamen, and directed not by one of the teachers, but by the drama school’s accountant, who just wanted to have a go. God It was like primary school. Oh you had to have a sense of humour to go to Birmingham back then!
Shaz always made the best of whatever she was cast in though, despite a lot of eye rolling at initial casting she went for it hell for leather, whereas often I confess if I was unhappy I’d get a bit sulky and turn in a substandard performance as a result! Shaz was always a true professional. This something she did for all the years I knew her, in plays, short films and working in a succession of unattractive attractions like London Dungeon & The London Bridge experience where she played warty old hags and plague victims like her whole career depended on it. God I believe she never put in a bad performance.
Shaz & I came together to adapt a couple of classic book scenes in a show our group were doing called Victorian Scrapbook, which was lots of scenes from Victorian era books and plays tagged together. She did Jane Eyre, I did Nicholas Nickleby mainly because I wanted to play the fabulously pantomime villainous Wackford Squeers, then got all grumpy when I was cast as a minor, dull character in my own fucking piece!
We were also cast together for the first time in a creaky old piece called ‘Judged by Appearances’ by Frederick Fenn about a jealous husband, Arthur (me), goaded by his wife, Helen (Shaz) for not being man enough, so he then decides to shoot himself in desperation, only to be surprised by a burglar (me old mate Kevin Tucker) who I then ask to do the job for me, but when he refuses, I get angry with him & a struggle ensues, whereby Shaz as my wife discovers us, thinks I am defending the house & sees me in a whole new light! “Oh Arthur”, I can still her intone!
I asked Shaz to work with me on the Poel Prize in our final year at Brum, which was a creaky old competition specifically about doing duologues from the Elizabethan & Jacobean stage where all the old accredited drama schools across the country used to put forward final year candidates to represent them in a national heat in London to decide the outright winner.
I originally wanted to do Macbeth with her, as I thought she’d make a fabulous Lady Macbeth, as I was always attracted to her strong personality (I’ve always been drawn to strong, formidable women), anyway I thought that too well known for a competition like this, that others would surely do it and we were encouraged to do lesser known pieces.
Whilst back home in Manchester on a break I’d been browsing the old university bookshop and found a play called ‘The Maid’s Tragedy’ by Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher, both guys who knew & wrote occasionally with Shakespeare. It was a real melodramatic potboiler but I thought no one else will do this, so went to Shaz with it.
She was enthusiastic so we set about finding a scene in it to edit down it to a couple of minutes that was the stipulation. I’ve still got the play with her notes in pencil adapting it. The speech we did as the brother and sister, Melantius and Evadne, had me calling her a whore every other sentence and manhandling her a lot! We had great fun with it, although I did lose confidence in the piece!
Oh bless her, literally every time we met years after drama school, she’d tell me how happy she was that I’d asked her to work with me on this & I told her quite honestly that I wanted to work with no one else but her. She’d then go all serious, close her eyes momentarily, (I loved her naturally melodramatic manner), & go on to remind me, in the sweetest, hurt voice of how I appeared to lose heart in the piece & then delightfully her voice would change to a stern reprimand, as she reminded me that were it not for her giving me a kick up the arse we would never have won though to represent BSSD in the national heat held in London. And she was bloody right!
This event was held on The Olivier stage of the National Theatre, though it’s strange I have almost no recollection of that now, wish I could vividly remember us being on the Olivier stage even though I can vaguely recall it wasn’t a very big audience, I don’t know what I was on! I also get this confused with the Laurence Olivier bursary which was a different thing we both represented the drama school for as well, with monologues this time, (God we must have been good), and I can remember being on stage at St Martin’s Theatre in London for that, where the Mousetrap is still forever in residence. And Shaz and I going drinking round the west end afterwards, which understandably this time I can’t remember much about!
I think the reason why I lost confidence in the Poel was because I’d had second thoughts about what what was a ridiculously melodramatic piece. This in spite of working with the best actress in the school and having the only teacher who I respected direct it, Ron Williams.
I loved Ron, he was the only teacher who made me want to work & as well as being the only teacher I ever had (and that includes my rotten school), who inspired me. Shaz loved him too and like me was blessed to have him as a tutor. We did a lot of psychological brother & sister relationship impros verging on the incestuous, which was great and very Ron!
There was no disguising though that it was hard getting such truth from the overly dramatic text, it was a huge challenge for me anyway if not for Shaz.
Not taking anything away from Ron, but it was Shaz who really motored that piece through, got me working, completely true that she got us that place in the national heats. She took me on like the force she was, she was beautifully fierce and when I saw her at close quarters taking control I loved her and was totally convinced she was going to be a hugely successful actress post drama school.
We didn’t win but fuck it, no wonder Shaz was proud, my greatest accolade to be with her on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre.. the fucking Olivier stage!
Shaz was flat sharing in our final year with one of the post grads, Claire Harding, (those on the one year post grads course got an even rougher deal than we did, but I had some great mates in them over the years), Claire was going out with Jack Wild, forever famous for playing The Artful Dodger in Oliver. Ebbe in our year, who was my best mate out of the lads, had become along with Shaz and I, regular drinking buddies by then, I was modelling myself as the drama school hell raiser, boasting that I’d got barred from 8 pubs in Birmingham, (well it was actually only 3!) and Shaz invited us both back for a dinner party one night and Jack was there.
I liked him a lot, and he was happy to chat about his career. He didn’t eat and certainly not drink anything, (he’d had a big booze problem of course and was off it by then), held this cute shih tzu virtually the whole time and a lit ciggie was in his mouth on a chain. It was a great, great night, such good atmosphere. It was the best dinner party I’ve ever been to, great assembly not just because of Jack, but Shaz was on great form too, so we were all laughing and drinking, (apart from Jack, he said “Oh don’t mind me fill your boots!”) til the wee small hours.
I met Shaz’s mum Margaret a few times when she came to see Shaz in shows at Brum and once as for a bit we were streamed into different groups in the final year, a show that I was in that she wasn’t, because Shaz particularly wanted her mum to see it.
The show was called ‘Ladies in Retirement’ a regular old antique of a play & a staple of amateur dramatic groups, directed by an affable old codger called John Bromley, who always seemed like he was on his last legs, and even if he wasn’t before, got much nearer to being directing us!
It was an unusual & on the face of it refreshingly girl heavy play, 6 female parts & just I male role, me.
Margaret had done some acting when she was younger and been in this very play as Lucy, the housemaid, but prominent character in the action. She was very sweet about it, but what she might’ve thought I can only guess, because quite honestly it was dreadful, I was dreadful, we all were dreadful.
Toni, who would become Shaz’s dearest mate was made up to look like the old spinster character Miss Fiske in this mad old wig that you couldn’t look at her in without creasing up. I was just making it up as I went along playing this dodgy, wide boy character Albert & trying not to corpse around the others, particularly Toni & Tasha!
It is unbelievably described as being the finest stage thriller ever written! Well if it is, we really fucked up! I think all of us in it were only too aware of it being a being a turkey, so we just had a laugh at the plays expense & so it became a farce, but not a good one!
I said to Shaz years later when she’d regularly bring this up about her mum who she loved dearly, being so keen to see the play because of her doing it, how sorry I was that we’d been so shite, but Shaz was adamant that her mum had enjoyed it, so maybe it wasn’t as bad to watch as it was to be in!
Oh we did some stupid plays in our final year when we were supposed to be doing our best work and don’t even get me started on the very last play we all did together at the school, The Balcony by Jean Genet, the play apparently considered his masterpiece… er not the way we did it!
Fucking hell It was an eccentric, absurdist play anyway and an equally eccentric choice for a final show, and I seemed to have blanked most of it out now.
I can just about remember Shaz wearing an executioners mask & apparently playing a character called Arthur!!!! No doubt even Shaz only disguising her disbelief at this rubbish by the mask she had to wear!
No better evidence of how the girls in our year got fucked over by our drama school something chronic by the casting in this & the lads didn’t do much better!
I think we were all, even Shaz just going through the motions with The Balcony! The best I can say about it is I remember going down the pub a lot with it’s director Richard Syms both after and during rehearsals & getting totally shit faced!
Happily though Shaz had already distinguished herself as our years best singer in the musical ‘Hair’ one of the best shows in the final year, and as I said before her rendition of ‘I Love Paris’ from that second year show was revived for our the end of year showcase in London, and it was easily the highlight of an otherwise unspectacular finale for us at Birmingham & happily she at least came away from it all smelling of roses!
When drama school ended I didn’t see her for a couple of years. I’d stayed on in Birmingham for a year after the course ended trying to pay off debts!
I remember well our little reunion in a bar she worked in called Truckles near the British museum which had a big open courtyard in the centre of it and Shaz had an idea about persuading the management to do outdoor Shakespeare productions here, and if it happened wanted me in on it, and if anyone could have persuaded them it was her. Shaz loved her Shakespeare dearly, or Shakey as I was reminded by her lovely cousin Martin recently that Shaz would call him!
Sadly It never happened least not with Shaz anyway, and not long after that she went off on a theatre job in Italy, a tour of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, where she played one half of the American couple who move into a haunted old stately home. I didn’t see it but know the story quite well and can just hear Shaz after her character finds a famed bloodstain, which has made the house something of a haunted tourist attraction, saying cooly “I do not care for bloodstains” and insisting it is got rid of immediately!
I saw a lot of Shaz around 2005/2006 when we were working on a helpline for a company that made cordless telephones for BT which Toni our friend from drama school had told us both about as she was working there. People would call in if they had problems using them. Usually it was people who’d charged the phones up and then unplugged them thinking that these cordless phones worked like mobiles! We used to all go a bit crazy in that little underground room. I remember Shaz would often get to her feet and pace as far as the headset wire would allow her when she had someone on who she’d lost her patience with, and dear Shaz didn’t suffer fools gladly. She’d roll her eyes dramatically and comically pull a face of an imbecile.
There was a type of cordless phone called a Quartet, one with large buttons, Fisher Price like jobs aimed at the elderly and I remember Shaz on one occasion on her feet trying to make the obviously elderly person at the other end of the line understand what the phone was called… “It’s called a Quartet…QUAR-TET! You know like STRING QUARTET!!!” She’d always crease me up.
The best thing about this job was that I got to hang out with Shaz every day for the first time since drama school, and dear Toni too. Also there was John Myers who I’d bonded with, a very talented professional musician who became a part of our little drinking team after work. John and I got round the monotony, (or mongotomy) of life on the helpline by creating ‘Mong corner!’ Not at all pc, but nevertheless a much needed source of spirit amidst what was otherwise a soul destroying environment! Shaz didn’t really approve of Mong corner and I can see her face now looking at us & Toni too, with a distinctly nonplussed look, whenever we’d go as we did frequently “MUH!”
It was at this time I really fell in love with Shaz.
I’d always liked her, we’d had a brief moment at drama school, there was an attraction but we never went out. She was seeing someone outside of the drama school I think. I was always seemingly besotted by a succession of completely unsuitable nutters in other years who were destined to fail, such has ever been the story of my disastrous dating life! And at the time in reality I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees, or the flames for the Byrne!
But yes the helpline job saw us spending more time together than we’d spent in years and I fantasied about being with her, but by then she was with Antony who would be the love of her life, and that was that and that was how it always was, and I eventually accepted that.
Even if she hadn’t been with Ant I’m not at all flattering myself she’d have ever been with me, but I always felt we had a real chemistry both onstage and off. She was the kind of a girl I felt I could take on the world with and quite honestly even though I knew it was impossible with Shaz, no one else I’ve ever met has matched her.
Such dreams as well as my persistent abject stupidity, still making the same bad choices after all these years, why I still find myself alone!
I was glad that Shaz was my very dear buddy. But I never stopped being in love with her from that day forward.
Yessss! I’m all too well aware it was all a fantasy about being with her, I live my whole life in one big fucking fantasy, a fantasy of acting glory as much as bra less mermaids and gothiccy, sexy witches putting me under their spell, and for that reason alone she’d never have put up me anyway, I think she needed someone more grounded. In fact we’d have probably ended up killing each other if we had gone out, a stormy, Richard Burton & Liz Taylor style relationship, although it would never have been dull!
I remember having a massive argument with her once after she turned up late missing a play I was in in Battersea in 2006. I think I was disappointed because I’d really wanted her to see the play I was in. It had been quite a hard, mentally challenging one to do, really got to me too, a bit of a gloomy, doomy one man play where I played an English businessman held hostage in Iraq.
I was upset because I really wanted Shaz to see it, I was proud of it and because I loved her wanted her opinion above anyone.
It was the only ever time we ever had a bust up and it may have been heightened because we’d both had too much to drink in a restaurant after, but the next time we saw each other not long after, it was completely forgotten.
Funnily enough the Burton/Taylor Taming of the Shrew movie was on telly the other day & I was reminded of Shaz’s great, great Kate in a Cambridge Shakespeare Festival show, put on in the grounds of Downing College Cambridge in the summer of 2008. It was her role, in fact in many ways it was the greatest role I ever saw her in and that’s saying something. I had some photos of her in this which to my very great sadness I seem to have lost, but I can still picture her in it in my mind.
I remember we the audience were seated in a very wide semi circle, far too far away really from the acting area but even so I still got the full impact of Shaz’s amazing flashing eyes! The guy playing Petruchio in this wasn’t up too much and Shaz although she had to of course succumb to him in the story in the end, in reality looked like she’d just have eaten him alive and never be tamed! Oh! We should have done ‘Shrew’ together for the Poel prize or better still a production of it, because that would have been amazing. How I wish I’d been her Petruchio!
Shaz also got me into her theatrical agency Rosebery Management about this time, my first agents in the 8 years since I’d left drama school which is amazing when I say it now, but I just couldn’t for the life of me interest anyone in taking me on! Rosebery was a co-op so you had to audition in front of all the actors on the books to get in, and I know that Shaz spoke up for me where at least one of the actors had cast doubt over offering me a place, She I’m sure argued my case in her own formidable way and got me into it. Bless her for that because Rosebery and her saved my acting career!
Shaz was the most hard working actor I have ever known, very conscientious and dedicated whilst doing her stint in the office at Rosebery, finding work for the everyone else on the books and going to check out shows to recruit possible new members. She was a very popular and well loved member of Rosebery.
I’m just laughing because I’ve found a comment she made on a group email to members around Christmastime which was pure Shaz: “Rosebery ladies remember: Santa really prefers the bad girls not the good!
She kept giving it the large with her career, doing theatre jobs on the fringe and off West End. I saw her in ‘Salaam Bethlehem’ for Riding Lights Theatre Company at Greenwich Theatre in 2007. This was a really interesting play from the point of view of the small Christian community in Israeli and Shaz played a doctor with great integrity and verve.
Then I saw her play an inmate in a lunatic asylum in ‘Ward 6’ at The Lion & Unicorn in Kentish Town which was a very odd play indeed!
Bless shaz, seemingly bomb proof to the eccentricities of our drama school shows, she gave it her all in a show worthy of Birmingham in it’s er, whimsicalness, to put it kindly and an equally eccentric director .
But she played the part with huge conviction and kept positive and was as committed as her character was! I always admired her focus at such times.
I also saw her in little known Ben Jonson comedy ‘The Magnetic Lady’ at The White Bear, Kennington in September 2010, apparently the first time the play had been performed since 1632! As usual in this she fabulously upstaged the more glamorous leads, even though de glamourised as she was herself playing a rather prim, dowdily dressed secretary type character Mistress Keep, (it was set in the 1930s). We got very drunk after as invariably we did when we saw each other in shows, and I can just about recollect that I kept saying to her over and over again… “but you’re the magnetic lady!”
Someone on that show I think it was the director was an absolute fucking bitch, according to Shaz, but it was very rare that she had run ins with people professionally.
Shaz had a heart of gold, she could seem fierce at the beginning if you didn’t know her and certainly understandably didn’t take shit from people, but she wasn’t at all difficult and she was never a diva. When you got to know her and if she became your friend, you really were in luck, because she’d go that extra mile and a lot for you, she’d be your best friend and she’d make you feel like you were hers.
To illustrate one of just thousands of examples of how great a friend Shaz was to me, when I was doing a fringe play at a pub near Belsize Park, just two days into rehearsals the absolute cunt of a director, a fella called Andrew Neil, (not the broadcaster), took me aside to say it wasn’t working out and he was going to have to let me go! Unbelievable, even though I’d realised the play was a turkey, I was doing my best and was really upset to be kicked out like this, so I rang the agents Rosebery to tell them and a few minutes later Shaz called me back. I think Phil in the office knowing how upset I was kindly phoned Shaz for me as he knew we were good buddies.
Shaz was lovely, she dropped everything and came out straight away to meet me at The World’s End in Camden. Well it was a shite play but I did feel temporarily like the world had ended!
She was so comforting when she got there, gave me the biggest hug ever and reassurance and sympathy by the bucket load, over quite a few drinks absolutely what I needed.
Oh yes she was just the best friend anyone could ever have. And that’s why she was extremely popular and well loved in companies that she worked in. Keeping in touch as close friends, and not just facebook friends, (Shaz hardly did facebook, not entirely trusting it), to many, many people she met on theatre jobs or the make ends meet jobs that we all did whilst living the dream.
Shaz was never afraid of playing unflattering roles, in fact revelled in playing them, she was in every sense a character actress first and foremost, although she could play the leading lady with ease too, (she was a very stunning & gorgeous looking woman & I often times told her that), but she was far much more interested in playing the roles with depth, the unsexy real characters, and she could play vivid characters with conviction.
She often times talked about how proud she was of her Snug the joiner, one of the gang of ‘mechanicals’ providing light relief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was another outdoor theatre that I saw her do for a company she worked with a lot, Rainbow Theatre Company in Greenwich park and as a nice contact to the blokey Snug, (which she played with a great Brummie accent), Shaz played a lady in waiting in a nice frock!
I told her how fab she was and I can see her beaming now. Her Snug was riotous, hilariously funny, played with huge conviction, vividly memorable and of course yet another case of herself as a relatively minor character totally blowing away the leads!
I really wanted to work with Shaz again, and was trying to think of something we could do ourselves, and then had the idea about writing her a one woman play about Bette Davis, who as I said before, Shaz had always reminded me of. I was inspired by the book ‘The Girl who walked Home Alone’. which my mum had been reading, and fancied for the first time directing it too. It's true it was because I was in love with her, but I genuinely really wanted to do something to help increase Shaz's profile in acting and I felt this would be a great vehicle if we could get it off the ground
Sadly it never happened, I guess it was really just another of my grandoise, Billy Liaresque dreams that never come to fruition, I'm no writer even though I've dabbled, but I still regret it as she would have been so fabulous as Bette Davis.
Shaz left Rosebery Management in 2012 to go with Ben West who’d broken away from being our administrator to form his own musical theatre based agency and he very nearly broke Rosebery too, initially wanting a vote to turn the agency into a musical theatre heavy, personal management, which would have required the likes of me, being like turkey’s voting for Christmas, but I didn’t blame Shaz for leaving, she’d been with Rosebery a long time and had been a hugely valuable, proactive member, keeping the agency afloat in difficult times.
Shaz’s star was encouragingly on the ascendant. She was doing a couple of number 1 tours, as understudy, first in Calendar Girls in 2011 and again in 2012, the first being a 6 month stint. The cast included famous names from British telly like Sue Holderness from Only Fools & Horses and Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph. Shaz wrote me at the end of the first tour that Hi Di Hi’s Ruth Madoc, who she’d clearly bonded with, had been trying to pull strings for her to play the dual part of the clueless Brenda when the show returned. Sadly that didn’t happen but Shaz did get to do a couple of runs and how I wish I’d seen her!
And then there was Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, on a tour for the famous Hull Truck theatre Company. She wrote me from being on tour in Stoke on Shithole (as she called Stoke on Trent! :) ) where she was understudying the titular character, Miss Sheppard, that one of the lead actors, (there were two actors playing different versions of Alan Bennett), had seen some of her rehearsals and was very impressed and supportive. But she went on to say that the actress playing her, Miss Sheppard, Nichola McAuliffe would have to be dead before she went on!
Such is the lot of an understudy, and although she was working at the top, it must have been frustrating for her not to get out every night and do what`she loved, as I know she'd have been pure magic in that role and had she somehow nobbled Nicola McAuliffe and taken over the role, it could have been the making of her. Oh wish I'd gone over to Stoke and hung outside the stage door of The Regent Theatre and er accidentally tripped her up as shew as entering!
Shaz’s lovely little doggie, Sebbie died at this time and he was the last link to her mum and dad. I'd slept over on Shaz's sofa in her living room in East Finchley quite a few times in that same house where she'd grown up over the years and little Sebbie was always a large character in the house. She was heartbroken and I told her how sorry I was, to try not to be sorrowful, and that someone like Sebbie will never really die and will be a spirit that will be known again, and told her what my mum had always said, that if animals aren't in heaven, I don't want to go there!
Shaz was really touched & said that her Mum and Dad would be pleased to have Sebs back with them again.
I read that email back now with tears in my eyes and think in that same spirit, how she’ll be with her mum and dad and Sebbie again.
She wrote me in 2013 after seeing me in my self produced play, ‘Beatle Mal’ which I’d done over 2 years, (and which Shaz of course came to support) of her exasperation after the last couple of years of doing high profile theatre that she’d had a shit year. She said she didn’t just expect to sit on her arse & get a phone call from the RSC! But that she’d started to think that things were going somewhere for her!
It was a rare note of despair, but she countered that she was going to give next year her biggest shot, but that if it turned out like this she might throw in the towel, but was terrified about what she’d do with the rest of her life.
I wrote her back a long encouraging email saying that I totally emphasised with her & that I’d said to myself that if I still wasn’t making money by the time I was 50, (as I was going to be next year), that I’d give it up, but told her that I didn’t really believe that, as anything else would make me more miserable! Shaz was obviously as acutely aware of her 40th year approaching as I was of my 50th. I suggested rather naively that she she should do some singing in local clubs, as I’d always loved her voice, and a a show where she could do like a stand up act, as she was very funny, telling stories and doing characters she’d done like Kate in Taming of the Shrew, perhaps tieing it in with Cole Porter’s ‘it’s too darn hot” from the musical Kiss me Kate.
She told me how much what I’d said had meant to her and I told her that I loved her very much and really wanted her to be more successful than her wildest dreams and I fished by saying.. “you could be, I REALLY believe that.”
I never stopped believing that.
That following year in January, perenially a shite month for me, when I retreat into my shell, (I’ve just had the worst January this year), I became really depressed and as I am want to do at such times selfishly pushed my friends away including dear Shaz.
‘Beatle Mal’ which I’d done over 2 years had just come to an end before Christmas & had been a bit of disaster really, doing nothing to increase my profile as an actor and losing me a lot of money. It also coincided with me stopping living in London so I saw less of my all my friends anyway and felt isolated. That and being acutely aware of my impending half century!
To my great sorrow I’ve found messages from her concerned that I hadn’t been in touch & not been to her 40th birthday bash in February, and asking me if she’d pissed me off as unusually for me I hadn’t even sent her a little message! Oh! I didn’t even reply or see it til now. I don’t know what the fuck I was doing! Makes me kick myself stupid with such regret now…
Dearest Shaz, of course it wasn’t that you pissed me off if, I was being a dick with
my head stuck up my arse in my self centred twattishness! When I should’ve got over myself and picked up the fucking phone, overcome a pathetic phone phobia that has cost me dear, and never more so than now!
I wish so much I’d been there to give you a big hug and get wonderfully pissed with you. My colossal loss for not being with you!
I did recover my senses enough to see her though just a few months after her birthday though in a play called ’Sitting up for Michael’ at The White Bear in 2014. This was a really excellent piece, humorous and involving, about a family coming together after a death which magnifies divisions and secrets.
Shaz played Frieda, the daughter of the titular character, a forthright Northern Irish woman from Country Tyrone, It was a typically strong role for Shaz with a faultless accent, and there was a great ensemble cast. I told her how particularly convincing I thought her accent was, and lots of people had congratulated her on this, as well as her performance generally and she beamed with pride: “well it’s in the blood!”
I knew how very proud she was of her Irish blood because she often spoke fondly of her of her mum and dad and all her cousins, aunties & uncles & nephews and nieces in Ireland, who she regularly visited in Meath, with great affection, lovingly putting on the accent as she did and I’d share my love & experiences of that wonderful country with her.
Whenever we got together at times like this, we’d both take great delight in recanting stories from Birmingham through rose tinted or should I say Pinot tinted glasses. We both liked a drink, oh and some!
I think we were both at the time of being in Brum, gob smacked in disbelief at some of the shortcomings of the place, although Shaz back then was the first to shake her head in disbelief as well as roar with laughter at all the absurdities and eccentricities of the drama school, she was always forthright and positive about dealing with them. Many times then and over the years since, I’ve thought what the fuck kind of drama school did I ever go to!
Oh but Shaz, you'd laugh when I say this, considering how I would diss the drama school sometimes, but I’m so, so glad that I went to Birmingham, because I met you, and that you became one of the most important persons in the half of my life that I've known you. it would be unthinkably awful never to have known you
Shaz was always a kind friend and occasionally I took up her invitation to sleep on her sofa as despite having left London, I was still coming down a few days a week to work as a tour guide for the coach company I worked for. I really didn't like to impose on her & Antony's privacy and they had a couple of lodgers in the house too, so there wasn't a lot of space, but Shaz was really lovely and said I'd be welcome anytime.
She was working at that time at the RSVP call centre in docklands which almost exclusively employed actors to do things like sell subscriptions to various businesses etc. I'd often meet her from work at the strangely named 'Pepper St Ontiod' pub (an acronym for being on Pepper Street on the Isle of Dogs) and we'd sit out drinking looking over the water on the quayside, or we'd go back to take in a film at the lovely Pheonix cinema near where she lived in East Finchley.
I met her for a big old catch up in the summer of 2018 , the first time I'd seen her in a couple of years shockingly , after seeing her strut her stuff working at The London Bridge Experience, a museum of horrors themed around the horrible history of London Bridge. She was of course brilliant playing a crude old crone hilariously making mildly lewd suggestions to the crowd assembled within the dark dank conditions of the museum. She was very funny and put in the same deeply felt and charismatic performance that I'd seen her do in all her acting work.
Afterwards we went for drinks first in the Mudlark near the museum and then on my suggestion we repaired to the Old Thameside Inn next to The Golden Hinde, whIch had been my regular watering hole in my first job when I came to live in London in 1998, as an actor hamming it up something rotten on that replica ship!
It was a beautiful, joyful evening sitting out on the terrace by the Thames with London Bridge as a backdrop and the lit up night skyline of the city. I'm looking at the photos now and want to walk back right into them in all their slightly out of focus and poorly lit glory, Shaz was as radiant and fabulous as she was in all the years I've' known her.
We told all the old stories, laughed blissfully and got wonderfully pissed. It was the happiest I'd been in a long time, a perfect moment I thought that at the time and I remember not wanting the evening to end.
The last time I saw Shaz was when she came with Toni to see me in the play ‘Wrestling the Walrus’ last year which after playing in Manchester came to funny little venue called The Yard Theatre in east London.
We didn’t have a very long catch up at the end, no time to get her news, it was all about me!!! Oh it was so fabulous to see them both, I hadn't seen Toni for over 10 years, really made my day, if not month! Sadly they didn't want to stay late, understandably as it wasn't the most salubrious or easy to get home from location.
If I’d known or even had some inkling that this would be the last time, while giving her the big bear hug, that I’d always give her, whenever I met her, or parted from her, lifting her right up off her feet, I’d never have let her go!
eI've tried to keep a spirited touch whilst writing all this, true to her dear self, regrettably though this is where this all gets very sad and even more indulgently reflective though, so if I flatter myself that anyone else is reading this, you might want to finish here.
It never occurs to me that anyone else might read my navel gazing blogs on this my anyway ’vanity website’, rarely anyone does as I don’t push them. And anyway such streams of consciousness without a much needed edit, are really meant for myself and do help as therapy for my mental health, never more so than at times like this.
I have been through an almighty depression this year and for the first time I’ve admitted to myself as well as others to suffering from depression for a long time.
I was just getting over it when I got news of Shaz whilst on my way back from a shift guiding at the Coronation Street tour and on the eve of an almighty storm!
God everything is totally surreal at the mo, the biggest, lockdown & curtailing of civil liberties since World War 2 as a backdrop to losing dear Shaz at only 45, both as equally unbelievable. Even though what has happened has begun to sink in after being in a daze the last few weeks, including at the funeral, just writing this blog I still have to have a double take or twenty, just writing about her in the past tense and frequently still can't.
My emotions are all over the place, at the moment, I'm laughing at remembrances of her one minute and weeping at photographs of her the next..
I can't believe when someone well meaning says it was her time. That’s not right, it’s just not right that a vibrant young woman like this should go when she still had so much to live for. Shaz was magnificent in everything she did, whether it was her career as an actress, or any of the fill in jobs she did, and of course she was the most magnificent company.
In a room full of people she was very much where the party was at, in the quietest pub or in the most soulless office she was a breath of fresh air, the bright light that you would desperately want to be near to comfort you.
Shaz lived her life dealing with epilepsy and faced that with the same courage and positivity that she displayed in every area of her life.
Writing this almost 6 weeks after I first heard the worst news, hasn’t done anything to get me accustomed to this, in fact as time goes on I’m getting more upset by it. I wake up each morning hoping that I’m going to awake from a bad dream, that Shaz is ok and that I would break the habit of a lifetime and call her later today for a much needed catch up.
I’d become more fatalistic from having this depression in January anyway and what has happened to dear Shaz and what is happening in the world on all our doorsteps right now has just heightened this.
I’ve cried more in the couple of weeks since the funeral than I have ever cried for anyone in my life, and I’m a bit of a soppy crier the best of times!
Grief is like a selfish emotion, it replays if only’s and what if’s and why’s over in your mind. It misses the person deeply, wishes the person there again as if this were a bad dream to almost the point of obsessing about it. It desperately, overwhelmingly needs them here for just for you.
Someone said that grief is all the love you want to give, but can't. Grief is love with nowhere to go and that' exactly it.
My dad who I absolutely loved to bits, died 38 years ago this year and honestly not a day has gone by since when I haven’t missed him and thought about him. Dad had been suffering from lung cancer for a year before he died and was brave, strong and protective throughout. Even though I’d been dreading losing him, I think I was probably in denial that I would, even on the night he passed. And it’s very odd but I felt strangely cushioned, numb when he did, almost like I was being given strength to cope. I always remember at the funeral a little bird flew into the church & settled on the coffin for a moment, dad always loved birds. It was amazing, almost like this was an affirmation that all was well and although you could say I have never stopped grieving for him, this grief over dear Shaz is different.
I was upset last year when a lovely old friend I knew from tour guiding 20 years ago, Jacqueline died very suddenly too, ironically the same age as Shaz. I’d been in love with her as well, and similarly had pushed her away because she wasn’t interested in me romantically, though she wanted to be friends, I’d made myself lose contact with her, hadn’t seen her for 15 years, so even though I was deeply sad & deeply remorseful about doing that, and it did affect me, with Shaz though the shock has been far more profound.
Of course I am well aware I am not alone in deeply missing her, particularly Antony and all her many friends and family will be feeling the pain too, she is so well loved and deeply grieved for. It has been absolutely lovely and comforting talking to Shaz’s fabulous cousins Mairtin and Bernadette about her, as it has to dear Toni, sharing our grief and our joyous memories of her.
I was originally asked to do a eulogy at the funeral but gave way to her old friend Danny who really wanted to do it. In the end because of the current shit going on, he couldn’t come from the US where he lives and sent me what he was going to say. I used a lot of what he’d written which was lovely but when I came to do it, I just had to put a lot of my own thoughts in too, trying not to make it too personal to me or Danny, but trying to speak for everyone who loved her.
Here though I wanted to talk about Shaz very personally and how much she meant to me,
I also imagine in my outrageous self importance here that I am a voice to tell the fucking acting world's movers and shakers what a lot of ignorant short sighted cunts they are in missing making this fabulous woman a star! Makes me angry when I think how brilliant she was. It's not a fair business I know and Shaz did work, and do good stuff as I have said, but fuck it she still should have been a household name!
I’ve tried to be honest here and I wanted to capture her in all those now precious moments I spent with her or heard from her. But ultimately no amount of fine words said here or as I did in the church take away what is an absolute, awful tragedy.
My heart goes out to Antony. It’s true at times I have envied him being her love but I knew how much she loved him and how ideal they were together and to lose that, to lose one so fabulous as your partner in life is unbearably awful.
Whilst selfishly reflecting on my own grief, I can barely imagine the heartbreak he has had. He is understandably inconsolable. I heard him say later in the day after the funeral that there’d never be another woman in his life. Really got to me.
I set out to write a celebration of you here dear Shaz. You are a glorious woman and you've been helping me as you helped me in life in inspiring me to write this, which is helping me deal with this current highly depressing self isolation. I have been writing this piece on and off over almost two weeks, I haven't wanted it to end.
My memories written down here are like a kind of communion with you to reaffirm how fabulous I think you are, and always did, and always will and how much you meant to me.
Of course I've caught nowhere near enough of your gorgeous spirit and your wonderful, infectious sense of humour and it’s got all got a bit maudlin and introspective. Sorry Shaz because you were always an absolute joy to be with. I loved and cared about you dearly. I’m going to be eternally sorry that I went for long periods of time without seeing or contacting you after I stopped living in London. Never more have I regretted that decision to leave London!
I’ve been speaking out loud to you a lot in the last couple of weeks of my lonely , heightened introspectiveness, flattering myself particularly with a few whiskies inside me that you can hear me. More soberly I know that if you’d be with just one person on earth it’d understandably be with Antony. it is to him you would give an ear from wherever you are if you are anywhere and I believe you are somewhere, as big a presence as you were in all of our lives, There are more things in heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy, to misquote Shakey!
I'm sure you're somehow transmitting comfort to him even if you're not allowed to!
Oh I wish I'd seen more of you, even just picked up the phone. I should have got over myself and just stopped being such a fantasist and a twat!
I blame Facebook! Fucking Facebook. I dislike and mistrust it as much as you and understand why you rarely did it, in fact a bit like you have stopped using it very much, I’m more wasting my time on twatter these days, which peversely is even less sociable. Fucking, evil Facebook! I resent and blame Facebook for all the stupid group emails I put out which you didn’t see about times I was in London when it was you more than anybody that I wanted to see the most.
You see what I did there? Blamed facebook for all the times I should’ve have just picked up the phone and called you. For all my shortcomings, blame fucking Facebook!!!
You didn’t need social media to be social as you you were a normal and decent human being who actually phoned and spoke and frequently saw your friends and I regret most deeply all the missed calls, and often unanswered messages from you.
I may have even gone more months this year, even without a national lockdown in place, in my frequently stupefying haze in not seeing or contacting my dear, dear friend. I think you understood that I got down sometimes and went awol, not that I think that it was acceptable to behave like that and it depresses me even more that Shaz might have thought I was a depressive old git!
I know the next time we met, no matter how long it had been it would have been as it always was, as if no such time had passed at all, but that doesn't do anything to alleviate my eternal fucking shame.
Oh Shaz I can loudly hear you say jokingly in reply … “For fuck sake, it's ok, please don’t be such a misery guts babes, we all need a laugh especially now!
It's hard not to let memories of her be associated with sadness now, but that would indeed be doing her a disservice. She’s a bright light in life who always cheered me when I saw her. I quoted The Smiths song ‘There is a light that never goes out’ at the funeral and have been listening to it since partly in tears but also smiling at the grim humour of Morrissey’s lyrics that Shaz adored!
I can’t believe I’ll never see you again, so I won’t. I didn’t say goodbye to you at the funeral, because I couldn’t. I just said farewell for now, it’ll be just another slightly elongated period when I don’t see you, but you’ll be with me especially whenever I think about acting or Ireland, or writing & anything creative that I might want to do. Or whenever I have a drink, and whenever and if ever I get to drink in a pub again, I’ll always get you a large glass of Pinot in just like I did in The White Lion after the funeral.
There's talk of a big celebration of you when all the current anxiety is over, maybe on or around your birthday next year, which your cousin Mairtin has already christened 'Shazfest!" And everyone else who loved you, but who couldn't be at the funeral because of current circumstances would come, and we could all have a good old do, with music and much love for you!
Oh I’ll miss you particularly deeply because you were my greatest supporter in the increasingly mad to worse world of acting and I’ll miss you to give me a much needed kick up the arse! So I’ll keep talking to you, and until I see you again, and it may not be that long, yes I’ll dream it’ll be as if no time has passed, your memory, your spirit will be kept up large, dearest Shazza!
I won’t say wish, because wishes at such time are particularly cruel and detrimental to our own psychological well being, but I will say this. That I would willingly trade all my dreams of acting glory, any amount of fame and money.. lottery fortunes, any of these impossibilities, I’d trade for another impossibility if impossibly it was possible for me to some how be allowed just one impossibility!!!
And that would be to go back as I am in my head now to you smiling up at me, that cheeky, sexy smile 26 years ago in the Autumn of 1994 at 45 Church Road, The Birmingham School of Speech & Drama, and you introducing yourself to me with all your life in front of you.
Near the end of our time at drama school, I had a pretentious little notebook that I got anyone I liked, students & teachers to write quotes about leaving in as a keepsake. I’ve still got it. Most people wrote famous quotes meaningful sayings they could remember, Shaz was different and wrote something hilariously typical of her and in a funny way more meaningful than any of the fine words…
“The best poo has sweetcorn in it!”
I’m afraid I’ve started out this year about as miserable as I’ve ever been. And not even the worst that could have happened has happened to me...thankfully.
I have nightmares in my waking hours of the worst but yes thankfully, hugely thankfully that isn’t the case, and equally as thankfully as happened for the first time this year last night I can still dream!
When I mean dream, I mean wonderful, life enhancing, mostly always Unfathomable, far fetched and near impossible & quite impossible things, but at least I can still dream them. At last too, because I’ve been suffering from insomnia something rotten this year and when I have slept it’s been for an hour or two at most, usually about 5am, that sleep that you’re body makes you do from being overtired, but isn’t a restful sleep and certainly not a dream filled deep sleep. Snoozing as my mum calls it. I was always faintly irritated by mum saying that she hadn’t really slept only snoozed. This mainly with mum was in the depression she was suffering the year before last. But now I can fully see what she meant. It’s the worst kind of sleep that denies you the most pleasurable thing about sleeping, dreaming, as well as awakening completely unrefreshed.
Of late I have been more aware of my own mortality than ever before. I have always like most people been scared of dying and perhaps unlike most people thought more about it, or rather it was the fear or rather extreme fear of loved ones leaving me, just as I was scared of my dear old dad dying long before he did. My dad was 44 when I was born, which doesn’t seem a lot now, but I remember being teased at school, people saying is that your grandad?! Stupid, dumb kids always take against anyone that doesn’t fit a boring normality. I was proud to be the only one in my school who had a dad who fought in WW2. My mum is 9 years younger than my dad, so I only started worrying about her after my dad died and many, many times I’ve worried about my mum over the years, if I can’t reach her on the telephone or if she was late meeting me at the station etc.
In the house I grew up in Poynton, and I want to stress that I had a very happy childhood, I do remember being scared if I was ever left alone even if it was a few minutes or thought I was on my own, and no I didn’t have irresponsible parents who left me alone when I was very young, but when I was old enough to know or cope better.
I have I believe suffered from depression for a long time now and only in the last week admitted this to a doctor who prescribed me for the first time some mild anti D’s mainly to help me sleep. Particularly things have gone bad since last summer. The play I did didn’t meet expectations and although I got myself an agent out of it, feel just about as far removed from acting as I’ve ever been. Also I’ve become worried about mum again as she had a relapse into depression again. Added to that there was of course yet another woman who I liked having met online going pear-shaped and I'm not talking about her figure!
Also I developed an anxiety particularly over my sisters insensitivity so much so that I had to block her and couldn’t speak to her for months and then when we did have a truce over Christmas it was soon broken with an almighty row just after Christmas. I am ridiculously over sensitive and my sister ridiculously insensitive, we are just bound to keep falling out sadly. But I wish that wasn't the case.
Another huge blow recently was Maisie my mums dear little shih tzu, a member of the family and I felt her loss as acutely.
Dear Maisie, died suddenly a few weeks ago and I felt her loss terribly. It hurts even writing about it.
Maze, an absolutely gorgeous dog, a real member of our family. We lost her after a potential cancer was spotted and she went under anaesthetic for a biopsy to test for it.
It still breaks my heart to talk about it, but I had noticed she was terribly uncomfortable on the night before and even came down to check on her in the night before, rubbling her stomach as she loved, but I didn’t really believe or couldn’t believe that she’d leave us. It still breaks my heart that mum was buying food for her in Morrisons when we’d left her at the vets to collect her later. Mum never gave up hope on her and that makes me cry the most. Mum went up to Scotland with my sister a few days later as had been pre planned. She told me couldn’t cry for Maisie even though she was terribly upset and I understood completely and empathised but that made me cry too. I buried her in the garden, left two candle lit lanterns where I had, and buried her with a love knot of Christmas tinsel to symbolise the wonderfully spirited effervescent little dog she was and how well loved and missed she was. Like missing Christmas like I always do when it’s gone in January, the light and the sparkle and even more so with the loss of such a beautiful and hugely characterful dog. After mum left for Scotland I was sobbing like a baby pretty much all the time so much so my eyes hurt and my stomach was as upset. I even left the Christmas tree up lit up long, long par twelfth night because so much was gone from the house that I couldn’t face that going too. I realise that in Maisie I was seeing the end of an era, mum has had dogs since a long time before I was born. I have never known a time without a dog and for almost 50 of my almost 56 years mum has has owned and bred them. Maisie was the last of the line and a huge part of my sorrow at not just losing a magnificent little dog is my concern for mum and her future well being too. I realise, I’m scared that in my current predicament that I couldn’t face anything happening to mum and am scared beyond belief that when mum leaves me I will have no one and will simply not be able to go on.
“Maisie you drive me crazy, but I love you all the same” I would always affectionately sing to you. You kept me company when no one else did particularly when I felt low last year and mum was away. “You’re the best dog in the world I would always say to you when you were sitting on the sofa, and you would look quizzically back me at me grinning that toothy grin I so miss. You were the last of the ‘Fabulous Three’ as I called yourself, Callie & Orly. I know you missed the other two when they went, particularly Callie who you would boss round, although feisty Callie would stand up to you playfully. You would charge around the house in the evening having a mad moment with the spirit of Callie long after she’d gone, and you spirit is still here. I have only just hoovered not wanting to remove your hair from the carpet, your hair once a nuisance has become treasure and I have kept a lock of it.
Dear Maze’s basket is still in the kitchen & the chair in which she sat & I can’t move them, am worrying that I should before mum returns, but don’t want to. Worst is late at night and I’ve turned the tv off and it’s too quiet and I still say goodnight Maze and try to believe I can hear her snoring from the room I sleep in above the kitchen. I am crying just writing this.
A lovely pharmacist in Nantwich Morrisons went through a list of things that might be depriving me of sleep when I asked her to recommend effective sleeping pills recently and after going through everything from no caffeine after 6pm and yoga, she suggested stroking a dog and when I told her you were gone her face met my sadness at saying this and she could offer no more help. I will always miss you, I hope you’re not mums last dog even though I don’t think mum will want another, because no matter how lovely they may be, they will never match you. Your lovely spirit will always be with us wherever we are, wherever we go.
Saving me from bleak introspection in the last week has been Coronation Street….!
This is a sentence I never thought to write. I have been aware of Corrie all my life, grew up with it on the tv. I was remembering my first memories of the street the other day and can remember vaguely a coach crash away from the street. Looking into this as I have been quite a bit in the last week as research for a job, sadly not acting in it, but working as a tour guide showing people round it. The coach crash on a trip to the lakes was in 1969 when the show had been on tv for 9 years and I was 5. I remember watching it through the whole of the 70s, particularly Hilda & Stan Ogden. And then mum has watched it through the 80s and 90s and I have always caught it when with her. But I became irritated with it’s issue based storylines and the trend in all soaps for high drama to increase ratings and compete with other soaps like Eastenders & Emmerdale, when I always thought the strength of these shows were the characters and the small stories that make every day life. So I virtually abandoned watching it and even chided mum for watching ‘this rubbish”. But at the moment the street is helping along with medication from feeling hopelessly lost. Yes I wish my new agent had at least been able to get me an audition for it never mind an actual part in it, and yes I am day dreaming that somehow me guiding people round it will somehow open one of them doors on Coronation street to its casting director, even though I am well aware that those doors don’t lead into a real world at all, even Gareth, the head of tours & attractions at ITV made a point of warning any actors training to be guides that this was not a way into the casting department. This faintly irritated me for the patronising manner he said it even if for all my Billy liaresque dreams I am well aware of that already, but as I have said my dreams, are made of stronger stuff than me!
So this is going to be a weekend job only, as they film Mon-Fri, assuming I make the grade of course as next weekend they will be looking to sign us off. But no false modesty I could do it tomorrow if they asked. I’ve not been guiding for this long, (22 years this year!) without having picked a few things up. Mainly an affliction for guiding at the expense of acting!) I’m more worried about where I’m going to live when I do the job at Media City, and doing some selling on their merchandise stand, which they want you to do as well. Not to mention that my legs ache after having just spent the last weekend repeatedly going round the set practicing the spiel in the freezing cold. In actual fact I am still hobbling round like a crippled old man two days on! So maybe I won’t be able to do it long term, but it’s keeping me sane for now! I am also ridiculously overweight, having piled on the pounds since the summer after barely a month of having lost a shed loads for the play I was doing in July. This time last year I was doing a daily exercise regime & had given up pasta, potatoes & bread as well as most impressively for me, sweets. At the moment I am definitely the biggest I’ve ever been, I daren’t with myself. Well I can’t because the scales are broken, and no I didn’t break them, but I might have. I can’t bring my mind, where my head is today to restart the diet & exercise again, but I should, I need to, I must and sooner than soon.
I have got to get myself together. Life is so precious and while I still have the gift of it, I am doing it a disservice to not live it. I must get out of this depression and not wallow in despair. Mum said to me which moved me hugely do it for Maisie's sake and I will. I will do it for everyone who I loved and lost. I am worried about mum and losing her is something I dread more than anything in my current state. I am scared of not having enough time left myself to matter to anyone. But I must try to and to enjoy life at the same time and hope for a good year for our family and the strength to cope with things and to overcome loneliness by being around lovely people. I must work to make my dreams real and that includes meeting a Marian to my (albeit ageing) Robin Hood!
Oh dear me. I would have liked to end this year on a cheerful blog, but my old enemy unhappiness has found me out. Specifically love, or the continuing misadventures of.
Did I really begin this year with a list of reasons to be cheerful. Or was that last year?
I’m finding it hard to remember what’s happened since I finished the play towards the end of July. That’s 5 fucking months, I don’t think it’s lingering characteristics of my character Mogg’s dementia. No more boredom, frustration, despair. Oh and lack of money too.
Romance always seems a pleasant distraction or rather the continuing misadventures in search of, and I spend enough time going on about it in these blogs. I promise if I ever met someone fabulous and it worked, I wouldn't go on and give a blow by blow account of it I promise, I wouldn't be that crass. It's just as I've said often enough before, these blogs are my streams of consciousness, where I get things off my chest, mindful that someone else might read them, even those I mention, I have no wish to hurt or denigrate them and won't. I write because it is a form of therapy.
Talking of which I had a romance of sorts with a nice looking Irish psychotherapist….
It’s funny I hadn’t seen her since 4th December, our fifth & final date over an almost 2 month period and my head must have been in a daze because I can’t even remember why now, but I remember really really fancying the moment she walked into Gullivers on Oldham Street Manchester on that afternoon of Saturday October 9th. On our second date about 3 weeks later we had a big snogfest after about 5 bottles of wine in Noho, and bar some hand holding went we went to see Joker weeks later we never got that affectionate again, she later told me she didn’t like kissing in public which is fair enough! I did fancy her big time but she never did convince me that she fancied me back, in fact on our last date, it was like she was repulsed. I have to ask myself with every woman I like whether it is just that I’m desperate for a girlfriend or am I really into her, and I was really into her, but of course hurt can cause you to doubt even that.
To be fair she was clearly upset on that last day we met , was talking about an ex boyf who she’s still kept friends with who’d died and only been discovered after many days and she’d been reading the pathology report!
Now I could write the book on wrong subjects to talk about on dates, but this was something new. She messaged me later than she said it looked like I was going to have a heart attack when I met her at Alderley Edge, a bit of an almighty exaggeration as was describing mud on my jeans, I checked them later. I’d climbed up the Edge all excited to meet her and that was my crime, looking too knackered & dishevelled as a result, apparently. She implied that she didn’t want to get close to someone who could die! As excuses for splitting up go it’s one of the more practical ones, if totally bizarre and unfounded. We spent a good 4 hours at the Wizard and if I’m honest the only thing I felt about my heart was it deflating!
Looking back over all my years I don't believe any woman I've really desired or loved has ever desired or loved me back. I always thought love would save me somehow, but I've never found that kind of love and I'm very doubtful whether it would anyway, because the sort of love I fantasise about, the sort that I imagine would save me, doesn't exist anyway. A lot of us have an almost childish desire to be loved, cherished, and for it almost to become a quest in life seems hopelessly ridiculous.
Just been watching with my mum this afternoon 'It's a Wonderful Life' and that's cheered me as well as gutted me!
So it's New Years eve what better or worse time to think about all the things in life In haven’t done, or haven’t been able to do, couldn’t do. Like driving & being a dad or bought a house, become a successful actor, met a lovely woman to spend my life with! The thing that depresses me most is that I haven't mattered in anyones life. Not really made a difference, so if I like George imagines in the film, hadn't existed it wouldn't really have caused great shakes in anyones lives.
Thats a terrible thing to admit, that I haven't mattered, but it is really true I'm sad to say. So with that bombshell admitted shamefully I'm left asking what have I done for myself and I’m trying to make a list in an attempt to cheer myself up...
What have I done?
Got to age of 55!
Became vegetarian 30 years ago & stuck to it, apart from a couple of mistakes!
Written & performed my own play
Been the only one in my Drama School year to produce a play outside the college
Come to realise my Tara Power as a blessing not the curse for years I thought it was before I thought of her.
Lived in London full time for over 15 years
Made good & lovely friends in Therese Ryan, Andy Greaves, Che Finch, Noreen Osborne, Bernadette Rowley, Sharron Byrne.
Become a better actor than I was when I started!
Worked & spent considerable time in: Rome, Dublin,my 2 favourite cities & in Weymouth.. very dear to me And Maiden Castle my most favourite place.
Learnt much about history from working as a tour guide to many places in England. Tried always to be kind, thoughtful & tolerant……BUT I of course haven’t succeeded in this. Maybe I’m not quite the nice person I thought I was! I have hurt to my knowledge 2 women…only 2 and the hurt was in the first ending our relationship with a text message and in the second not even doing that but letting her get upset at not hearing from me and say I wasn’t the man she thought I was. Too right.
OH I accuse myself of anger which is directed at myself and allowing my sister to make me angry.
My sister had been behaving monstrously, though she failed as always to see it. We were supposed to go over to hers for New Years Eve and then I had a massive bust up with last Friday when mum fell over and she started shouting at mum and I told her to calm down and she turned on me and then I went mad back at her and she slapped me across the face, first time ever I've been slapped by a woman!
Looking back as always things are said when you're upset that you don't really mean, and we were both upset at mum falling over.
I am furious with her, I think she is a very unhappy person, but she has all the things I haven’t. Her own family. A marriage, a life, normality. Things I have craved and do. I suggested Vickie see a psychiatrist but I maybe do too, or to get treatment for depression, maybe I'm the one that's in denial. I really don't think we can blame anyone but ourselves, certainly not our mum and dad, the best mum and dad anyone could wish for and as I frequently have said, I wouldn't want another try at life because it would mean having to have different parents and for me I lucked out this time round,
My dear friend Therese tells me to not have a go at myself, she says I am lovely, I am not convinced, even though she is a sage. She says saying negative things reflect badly on me like I am almost telling the cosmos, but I don't see myself as that important that the cosmos would care a jot about my rantings and ravings.
At the end of the day ("you're another day older") Spent new years eve watching the film of Les Miserables with my mum, hugely lucky that my dear mum is still with me.
If I really believed that I'd given up on finding a lovely woman I'd have ended it and if I believed truly that I'd never have success as an actor. They both seem like unattainable things but I cannot in all honesty give them up, just yet a while anyway.
Dopey love, shite school, un-dampened desire & my greatest performance that will never be seen! (August navel gazing)
I am a bit slow, too slow for life really, “Days are like seconds on my clock of reckoning” I once wrote in a poem. Most things have always taken me a long time to do, from reading a book to getting changed after I’ve done shows, I do eat fast, that’s about the only thing I do quickly! Of course some things in life are far more enjoyable when you’re not so fast, but these opportunities are invariably rare, personally speaking (more on this later!) I used to think, or hope that I was a late developer, (late bloomer), not so sure now, although I still live in hope!
I am a bit thick too, not so much dopey though, (more on this in a bit too),I often go on about the time I quietly left an IQ test after not being able to get my head around any of the 20 or so questions on the sheet of paper!
The thing I’ve been most stupid about in my life is love, desire, flutter hearting! From being too stupid to see opportunities for this, and those that liked me, to more often fancying the wrong, the most unsuitable girl, the ones that don’t or never would fancy me back. Oh I’ve been incredibly stupid with this..prolific in fact! From my late teens onwards I wrote poems, rambling silly often verging on the terrible poems, (though one or two quite good), about unrequited love.
Sex is a mojo giver! Certainly for a bloke I think, deffo for me anyway, which is why I’ve lacked confidence to do so much in my life, I've not had nearly enough of it! And I know from when I have and the times I've been in love that its better than flying!
Oh I've desired many many, many girls over the years. Some of my earliest memories in fact are of liking girls, long before sexual desire attraction was there. From the time I was deliberately naughty just to get to sit next to the threatened punishment of Stephanie Mattocks, the prettiest girl in primary school! Oh I maybe stupid, but not as stupid as the teachers I had! But I became an unconfident kid at puberty who desired girls strongly but was too shy to talk to them and was teased by some girls for being ‘dopey’ This was a nickname I had in class 12-13 years of age. I remember exactly how it came about.
My full, christened name that isn’t even now on my passport, (as I successfully lost part of it it), is Nicholas, Michael Ashley Wood-Jones. I became self conscious of having a double barrelled name in senior school was teased, mostly by the teachers, a chemistry teacher called Turner insisted on calling me ‘Plastic Jones’ for reasons best known to himself, (I do remember calling him ‘Turnip’ back to his face, so unlike others he can’t have been too threatening!) So I was embarrassed at having 3 names on top of the double barrell. Was incredibly sensitive about the Ashley, (my mum loved the character played by Lesley Howard in Gone with the wind), some of the girls were chatting to the teacher Mrs Haughton & going through the register to see peoples second names and to my horror I suddenly heard one of them say ‘Ashley’ out loud with a snigger! Instead of proudly admitting this as my name, like a dick I said “That’s not my name!” So forever after with these girls it became my nickname, even though ironically these girls were far dopier than I, as well as being not the least bit nice in temperament or looks!
I remember a trio from Bollington , (a convoy of Bostocks coaches would bus in the kids from Bolly as at the time Poynton County High School must’ve been the only senior school that would have them!), a couple of which, Janet Turner & Christine White who were just horrible, but the third Ilona Gemmell, who was a very pretty & rather shy girl. She'd initially been teased by some of the teachers for her unusual christian name, deliberately mispronouncing it Iona or spitefully drawing attention to it’s uncommonness, (God we really did have the most stupid, moronic & spiteful teachers at Poynton County High School!) Sadly even cute Ilona soon fell in with the others to fit in and chorus “Dopey!” At me whenever they saw me! This hurt me hugely because I desired Ilona big time and loved her name & never forgotten it! Christine White, who was ugly in every sense of the word, even tried to pick a fight with me, challenging me to a ‘scrap’. Whilst being sorely tempted to slap her, or intimidate her at this constant provocation, although I never would of course, I instead opted for a jokey reply to try to fuck her off. I said I'd be embarrassed to be beaten up by a girl" Of course with this simpleton this only made matters worse, she actually thought I was being serious and teased me mercilessly for my perceived lack of manliness and this was picked up by some of the more stupid lads! I’d never been bullied in school, (well there was the ‘ginger haired boy’ as everyone called him in primary school who would try and get everyones dinner money off them, but he didn’t last long!). I’d never been the popular sporty lad who gets picked early by the others in a team selection, although I loved football with a passion and was hurt at being in the left overs at selection, but no one bullied me
But after this I was teased mercilessly in my class by all but a small group of allies. Even one of the two most teased/bullied kids in the school, Nigel Milius was egged on by others to pick a fight with me. I let him have his little moment of liberation from bullying
until I'd had enough and snapped. It’s funny I’ve always hated seeing others bullied and I’m glad to say I never joined in with this, just to fit in as many a weak minded kid did, I never wanted to fit into the gang mentality, both Millius and Mark Foster (Fossy) who I think might have had polio because he had a funny leg/stance bit like I saw in Ian Dury later, were lads I hung out with, liked them, stuck up for them. I felt sorry for Fossy, his mum had died and we were told this by our teacher. I remember thinking how awful for him. They were targeted just because they were perceived as weak or different. I was a nice kid. But nice kids weren’t popular, to be popular you had to be a twat! There were rare exceptions, my good mate at Poynton was Bill Jackson. He was teased when he arrived in the 2nd I think it was, some called him ’Nobody’ as he looked a little like the kid playing a Victorian street urchin ghost in a tv series I absolutely loved in the 70s called ’Nobody’s House” Bill quickly rose above it, as he had a enviable natural cool about him, didn’t care about fitting in and being in a gang or giving you a wide berth just because others laughed at you, he just fitted in because he did, not because he tried.
in 1977 I went to see Sylvester Stallone in Rocky with my dad and this made me take on a tougher persona with the twats that had been calling me want to take on the twats who were calling me and facing up to them made them soon back down & go back to targeting the two weakest individuals, silly Milius & poor old Fossy. I hope it all came good for Fossy, I searched for him on Facebook and think I found him, but few details to confirm it’s actually him other than he’s from Bolly & went to the school, his profile photo is a snake!
It’s funny I’m writing this 7 miles away from Poynton where I grew up and only 2 or 3 miles from Bollington, I’m at my friend Che’s house in Rainow dog sitting her trio of cocker spaniels, (I met Ché on Guardian soulmates earlier this year and really, really like her but she just wants to be friends, and since my friend Jacqueline died this year who I gave over a blog a few months ago, I’ve realised how silly and harmful it is to cast women aside simply because they don’t want to sleep with you!). I’m wondering how many of those ‘Bollington bummers’ I knew are still there, Andrew Barber was a great mate of mine, we’d jokingly trade insults of Bollington bummers & Poynton Puftas!
Wonder what became of pretty Ilona Gemmell, the only girl I had a crush on in this low high school. It's hard to search for girls you knew on social media as of course they change their names with marriage which never seems fair or right, (although I’ve long fantasised about my own gorgeous Mrs Wood-Jones!)
Poynton County High School killed two important things for me, it killed my interest in sport, when you start equating games with dread of being forced to do a cross country run again because you didn’t look knackered enough at the end or showers deliberately turned cold and physical & mental intimidation from the dreaded double act of Mr Jones and Mr Morgan then you very quickly lose your love of it. I stopped loving football about 14 or 15, we didn’t even play footie, the school was mad on rugby or cross country running. Of course some might say that this sort of behaviour from your teachers makes a man of you, far mote likely brutalize and fuck you up I think!
I hate school mostly because it killed my love of art. Oh I still want to torch the whole fucking place (without actually killing anyone), for doing this to me. The so called teachers who took us for art frequently disrespected or devalued it’s importance. A horrible bastard called Hebditch who’d say in his whiney Essex-like accent, (And because of him I’ve always disliked this accent the most) “I like to see people rubbing out!” So if you drew as fast as me, yes as well as eating fast the only other thing I was fast at was drawing! You were in for it with him. What a moronic thing to say, and when the cunt was made head of year he’d shamefully spend the entire lesson checking your homework for other subjects, shitting on the very subject that he was supposedly there to teach! Oh I don’t like to have such hate in me, but I still hate Hebditch after all these years, the cunt is probably still alive, because cunts like that tend to go on, but if he’s dead, I hope he died a painfully terrible death for his crimes at Poynton, and not least because I hold this cunt almost personally responsible for killing my love of drawing, something I was always, always doing when I was a kid up to then!
Although I have frequently lamented the fact that we didn’t do drama at Poynton Country Shite School, (apart from hippie Mr Gray in the first year doing supposed relaxation exercises in the laughably named drama studio). Now I’m just glad we didn’t!
Now I didn’t intend this blog to turn into a rant about school, the original intention was to explore, what I frequently visit in these blogs, mojo. I like the word, although for much of my life it, confidence, (although mojo is so much more than that), has been a mystery, an illusive thing for me. I started this months blog thinking I’d tackle love & sex, and the shortage of it in my life being the reason I lacked confidence with virtually everything, not because of anything my parents did or didn’t do, and I’ll get back to that.
But school and particularly the 5 years I spent at this shite school affected a lot of my life and I still bear the scars almost 40 years since I left. Oh but the day I left I still remember as the happiest day of my life so far, and it is very sadly still the happiest day of my life so far! God if I could have just one wish it would be that before the 40th anniversary of my leaving school in July of next year that I have a happier happiest day!
It's also clear to me that the major damage that school inflicted on me was lack of confidence and certainly the explanation as to why I had ‘difficulties with girls’ most assuredly comes from school. That and the fact that within a few years of leaving my body was covered with psoriasis, roughly from the ages 17 to 25 until I had special puva treatment in Salford Royal to rid myself of it, (I was a bloomin’ virgin until I was 27), the shape of this scaley red mass which I would frequently itch so much it bled, was shaped like one of the most primitive earliest maps of the world. These things shape you.
There was and is one other significant difficulty with girls that was there from the very beginning, and that I mention in passing in my biography on this my vanity website. From an earliest age, (certainly by 4), I was rummaging around in the dressing up box under the stairs of the house in Poynton where I grew up, the smell of mothballs and the rustle of taffeta. There was a long yellow rustly dress with black netting on it that I would shut myself into this cupboard under the stairs to secretly try on from at least the age of four! I actually blame my sister for turning me into a tranny!
On a few early occasions she would dress me up like a doll and after initially being uncomfortable with it, I started finding it.. fun, though didn't let on to her! I'd never dream of telling her now, I've heard her speaking negatively about trannies, she's not at all open minded about such things.
Dressing up generally was a huge part of my early life, from dressing up in the correct football kit for Manchester City, (my favourite was the away strip of black & red), and cricket whites, the pads, the gloves and a jumper, (even now I want an England cricket tank top with the lions on it, although I don’t even like cricket!), to pulling my longest socks, (Man City, sky blue with claret & white tops), over my jogging bottoms or whatever we called long training or sports kecks back then, borrowing one of my dads shirts and one of his fencing swords, (I’ve still got his marvellous fencing swords), and pretending to be a pirate or a Musketeer. I loved great clothes, but girls were the best and most fascinating of all. I always loved big dresses with petticoats, (even the word ‘petticoat’ is still one of my favourite words),
I never wanted to be actually be a girl though, but I was whole heartedly fascinated by women and wearing female clothes was a touchstone to their world.
When I was about 12 I think I first ventured out dressed up for a little walk down Dickens Lane in Poynton in a blonde wig and a blouse & skirt, It was terrifyingly exciting and I didn't go far, I went on to do this from time to time always when it was quiet early evening, but one day I took I ran into some kids, don't know who they were, but took fright and ran as hard as I could, pulling wig off and someone, shouted "Wood-Jones!" after me. Horrifying I'd been found out and next day in school I feared the worst, but...nothing happened and from that day to this I never found out who it was. My dad almost discovered me once and I'll always wonder if he suspected, as immediately after almost finding me out, he gently said something like, "You can always talk to me if ever you want , and if you ever get into trouble I'll always support you!"
Oh if ever I'd been. a dad and a son or daughter of mine was either a tranny or gay or anything they were ashamed of, I know I'd always be so supportive and do anything I can to make them feel so loved.
I think I stopped for a long time after that, and when I did again puberty had struck and inevitably dressing became sexualised and clothes became fetishistic, and as acting was deep rooted in me long before I realised it or became confident with it, playing the part of a girl became as important as wearing the clothes!
Through the many, many times in my life including now that I have not had a girlfriend, dressing up as girl almost became my compensation and when I was in love with a girl, more often than not a big crush on someone who had no interest in me, I would become ashamed of this dressing up thing, and destroy any clothes I had bought, (a common trait I have read in trannies). I often joke I dress with the regularity of the full moon, but am more a Wear-silk than Werewolf! In fact nothing like that often.
As regard trannies, being honest I've never felt part of that club, never terribly comfortable with blokes that do because I do and that's a terrible admission I know, and I'm not saying that I am horrible or intolerant of others that do, just don't feel akin to it. Strange because ordinarily I am hugely accepting of peoples foibles. I once went to a party in North London dressed just for the craic, but felt uneasy. from the start. It was very funny though, mostly old guys wearing miniskirts and crappy wigs sitting around legs apart chatting about the best route off the M1 to Leicester, and a smattering of male admirers, kind of creepy fellas attracted to trannies trying to put their hand on your knees and risking a decking, so I beat a hasty retreat!
Oh yes, I can easily understand unease in prospective girlfs & it has with girls over the years cost me dear.
I kept this all quiet until almost 10 years ago when I decided what’s the point, although there’s mates that don’t know and I don’t feel the need to tell them, and my mum who probably knows anyway, (puts it down to being an actor and she’s right!) but who wouldn’t really understand and my sister who just couldn’t because she wouldnt), I have a small group of friends who do and I’m no longer terrified of everyone finding out). I kept a lid on this for years for fear everyone would think I was gay, even though I never had any doubts that I was straight’. When I first told my friend Tasha, she asked me why I hadn’t come out as a tranny to her sooner and I said because I was terrified girls would just think I was gay, and Tash replied “Oh we all just thought you were gay anyway, so you needn’t have bothered! Ha ha hahaharrrrrghhhhh!
I call this my ’Tara Power’ (she, her, my dressing up as a woman is my super power) I've always felt since very young that women are really what power is, despite men having always had it on paper. I've always been hugely attracted to powerful women too. A lovely woman who worked at The Yard in Hackney, where we did Wrestling the Walrus, admired my mermaid tattoo, done by niece Dana and I was telling her that I want a witch on my right arm, and she astutely observed "Oh you're drawn to powerful woman aren't you?" Oh yes.
I always like to think that two of my greatest heroes, John Lennon and Robert Louis Stevenson were both drawn to, collaborated with and married powerful and unconventional women, Yoko Ono and Fanny Osbourne. Women who both bore the brunt of criticism for the influence over these great men. Although I don't even in my most Billy Liaresque dreams compare myself to Lennon or RLS, I do dream of a such a love and powerful influence in my life. Behind every great man is a woman rolling their eyes!
For years I saw Tara as a curse, now I now very much view 'her' as a superpower. I am still relatively secretive about her, only a few close & trusted friends know. Of course no one reads this apart from my stalker! (Oh for a gorgeous stalker!)
But Tara deserves respect, she is in a way very much a separate part of me, whilst being deep in my psyche, She's an amalgam of all the women I've desired over the years and she has an Irish redhead boho, gothic vibe!
Over the years I've spent lots and lots of money on eBay buying far more and better quality women's clothes than my mans ones. Tara, is perhaps my greatest performance because she is me, she isn't a habit, she is hugely enjoyable, however ultimately unsatisfying, as the fact remains that however empowering she is to my psyche, she is still destined never to be seen by a wide audience and the reason for that is still I'm scared of ridicule, still fear women will think me gay or unmanly and that people will hate me not love me which just about matches the attention that my super power craves!
That said I don’t see the dressing as the curse that I for years did, see it as a blessing, but of course it certainly doesn’t help in getting a girlf! I often joke with the few close friends who know, about what my biggest hurdle is in getting a girlf, being a tranny, being an actor, having no money, no fixed abode or not being able to drive!!!?
Biggest problem I’ve had with women is that deep in my psyche, entrenched somewhat is this seeing a woman as a rescuer! I know this is fairly common, many people look to love as being a rescue, to save them from being alone, I don’t come across as needy and make a conscious effort to not appear so, but it’s so damn hard to find someone. My niece Gabrielle is getting married on 1st September. I’m happy for her but jealous also as I’ve never even come close to this in my life, seemed to have been labelled a singleton, a Batchelor, terrible word and would love nothing more than to have a ‘plus one’ at the wedding, but it’s a dream, and to some extent all my women have been dreams, including Tara, and for one who loves both mermaids and witches, it seems unsurprising that I still haven’t found happiness here.
I haven’t been in love, for a number of years now and I’m getting worried I will again. Oh I’ve been in lust and desired. I still very much like Ché, my ceramic artist friend, but really value her company and friendship, even if I still catch sight of myself being depressed at why we can’t just be boyfriend & girlf as she says she fancied me) The last woman I fell in love with, or was extremely depressed that I lost was Felicity, an arty and well spoken redhead near Cambridge, but that was Tara that did for that and funnily enough just after we’d seen the Eddie Redmayne movie The Danish Girl!
Recently I was in virtual lust with Gerry, a nurse in Liverpool. We met, we snogged and spent a day together but it was clear we’d built each other up too much before hand in sexy messages and it was never going to come to anything. She was funny though.
I still miss Liz, another girl I met on tinder. Gorgeous and nice Manchester girl and we snogged on Deansgate, to the cries of drunks around of “ get a room!” But when we did eventually get a room, tragically our moment of intimacy in a room at the Hanover hotel in Liverpool was ruined by water pouring in through the ceiling! Some clown in a upstairs room had left the bath running! Even though we both saw the funny side, it never really got ignited again after that and anyway I went after Felicity. Later regretful of our opportunity being dampened, I wrote Liz a love poem about all this and even though I know she has moved on I still think of her every August bank holiday Beatles festival in Liverpool in my lonely hotel room and send her a message to that effect to which she responds sweetly, (just as she just has at time of writing this), but with no hint of wishing to revisit.
Also I am still in touch with Jane in York, who I chatted to earlier in the year when I still had ideas on Ché and was honest with her, she's sounds a warm & lovely lady and so easy to talk to and I hope we get to meet, who knows and then again maybe nobody ever will want to be with such an irresponsible, useless (according to my sister), effectively homeless, penniless, (nearly) tranny actor who doesn't drive! Oh God hope Jane doesn't read this!
Oh such navel gazing in lonely hotel rooms will be the death of me I fear, but the great sadness & fear of not having & never having a woman I love in my life increasingly depresses me and I am as equally scared of dying alone as I am of not having made a mark in this world.
A ghostly experience on White Nancy!
In the middle of writing all this I had a ghostly experience when up on White Nancy, itself a ghostly, white 200 year old slightly skewed bell-shaped stone monument, in Cheshire visible from miles around it stands at the end of a ridge overlooking Rainow and at her foot is the village of Bollington.
I was walking away from Nancy heading back to Rainow along the gritstone trail and was almost at the end of long straight path with low dry stone walls on both sides. It was early evening about just after 6pm so not many people about, I’d not passed a soul on this particular path but looking back to see if I could get a glimpse of Nancy I caught site of a couple heading along towards me. At the end of this long straight path there was a gate, and although they weren’t making any noise I glimpsed from the corner of my eye that they were gaining on me, so much so that as I reached the gate they were almost upon me, and so I was just going to politely leave it open as I sensed they were there, but looking up they weren’t. They had gone, vanished. Not a sight of them. But where? The long path with the low wall either side of it stretched back behind me quite a distance. Nowhere for them to go, nowhere for them to hide. I am 100% sure that they were there even though it was from the corner of my eye. Sure as you know someone is there. A complete mystery with no logical explanation.
Now I love stories like this and although I haven’t here, I usually have to stop myself from making them into a more dramatic story, bending the truth. (Just as I have had to do when doing ghost walks in London in the past, just as happened when I worked at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the most haunted theatre in the world when odd things did happen, and they did!) But this did happen and even though as I said at the beginning of this piece, I am bit thick, there is no logical explanation for their disappearance and I certainly didn’t imagine them.
Even though I saw what I saw and then didn’t see them I still don’t however trust it, but that maybe just because I am a bit thick, and I wonder how many truthful such experiences are rejected thus.
STOP THE PRESS!
I’ve just got (28th August) a new agent! ML International Talent, well here’s to being thick being no barrier to me getting lots & lots of acting jobs!
Wrestling the walrus was a hard work, but turned into a truly great play, and I'm proud of the way we all created it.
I said to Leanne, (best actor you could ever hope to work opposite & lovely, giving lady too), before the last show in London that I wished so much that I could go back to day one of rehearsals for this. When you’re out of work, (fuck..it's not resting even as a joke), as I had been from fully paid acting work anyway, for just over 2 years before this, you dream about being in rehearsals for a great play and a particular dream of mine has been to be rehearsing in the Royal Exchange’s Swan street rehearsal studios. Funny how things work out.
Of course I envisaged a more traditional way of working, 3 weeks of learning script/stage directions, working on intricacies of character & the 4th fine tuning & polishing it up for performance.
If Dan, the director… (though he preferred the title lead artist), of 154 Collective had told me all about how Wrestling the Walrus was going to be approached back in November when I did a day’s workshop with him & the musicians, then I’d forgotten. 6 months on, I meet up with him at a lovely girl called Emma’s house in Flixton, SE Manchester, (just around the corner from a church my dad designed 50 years ago), where we meet up for some pre show filming and she’s my on screen wife in the visual elements of the show.
I ask him when we’d get a script and he said there’s no script, it’s all going to be devised! Cue mixture of shock and also excitement.
Never really done any devising before, though my old friend John Dunne, with whom I had a very pleasant catch up with the other day, was quick to point out that working with him I’d devised a lot of my own lines without it being a requirement!
I’d always loved hearing about how Mike Leigh worked devising dialogue around a basic structure of a screenplay, but this was going to be something else. Back in November I remember Dan saying that him and Paul, aka Fabric Lenny, artist were going to shut themselves away in a remote log cabin in North Yorkshire in January to create the thing.
Apparently though this was to create the concept rather than a script.
Working with Leanne Rowley…(Goddess, super woman and easily the best actor, I’ve ever worked with) made the process a hell of a lot easier, often I’ve joked that Leanne has been my carer both on stage and off in all this.
We got some great reviews, the Observer/Guardian called it 'Bold & inventive" even it did fail to mention the actors & musicians but its tone was positive. It gave Dan credit for the script, sadly there was no programme or details made available to press, informing them that it was a devised piece, that Leanne & I had written this script as much as Dan.
We did get five & four star reviews from online review sites who more fairly appraised it, and at the time of writing I am still trying to coax 2 agents, both Leanne's ex & current agency to take me on, one saw it, one didn't & I may or may not get a meeting with the one that couldn't make it. Trying to keep positive about this, as think it was a great showcase for me, but who knows?
The biggest excitement about all this going into it, was the prospect of working at the Royal Exchange Theatre!
Oh how I wish, I could get over myself with this venue… for fuck sake! But the place is deep, deep rooted in my psyche, ever since seeing plays here 40 years ago, even writing asking for any sort of job here when my dad was alive, (he helped me with the letter), only for them to not think at interview that this 17 year old, (still 10 years off getting confidence to act, never mind to live), intensely shy and head in the clouds, big lug was probably not someone it would’ve been productive having around, and understandably!
I’ve frequently bored anyone who’ll care to listen with the oft repeated “I’ll never really feel I’ve become an actor til I work here” like it’s a whimsical benchmark I’ve imposed on myself for success. And of course by ‘here’ I mean inhabiting the magical lunar module of the Exchange’s main house, although the studio space has been wonderful and it’s just been a childish thrill to hang out here, come and go though the stage door and frequent the green room! You could easily say too much of my mind is romantic shit, but then again, rightly or wrongly it’s that romantic shit that is actual pretty hugely bloody well important, frames my life and helps me get to levels of emotion as an actor.
Working with Leanne was easy, she is such a giving actress, she had the right attitude throughout, sure she’s worked for Dan & 154 before and knew their way of working, but also she knew how use her time for the best & most productive results. I feel she and the very excellent band of musicians, Nick, Hayley & James held this show together. It must have been hard for her with her because a lot of her time was no longer her own, with a 5 month old baby Nia to care for, cutest baby ever, though she never made it seem hard, just like her performance. In the first week she sent me a beautiful little message on WhatsApp one evening saying how she was thankful to me making it easier for her. I hope she still felt that after all the rest of the weeks had passed, because I wasn't easy!
Dan was adamant that I had to be at least 10 years older than my age, their synopsis of my character, that made it onto the show fliers description was of an elderly man meeting a young woman on a park beach” I made him a little younger than I think they were set on, in fact an ageing punk as I thought of those who saw the Sex pistols, the Damned & The Clash first time round would have 10 years on me anyway and I didn’t want him to be traditional old man. A fella in the audience at the after show Q&A said he thought this brought home dementia far more powerfully, as he was a first time punk, and that old punks not only become old men but get dementia too.
Dan’s main mantra throughout was that the play was not about dementia but rather about storytelling. This proved to be a battle to stay on track of this philosophy, right up to and beyond opening night, as before press night he wanted to 'glitch up' Mog’s only real lucid moment in the show, the wrestling story that I’d devised, but to his credit he changed his mind because I think the storytelling was absolutely paramount to this play being as good as it was.
A feature of collaboration which impressed me was Dan’s ability to take literally everyones ideas on board. There must have been pressure on him. I don’t think I could’ve worked under these conditions as a director.
I'm grateful to Dan for the opportunity, and to Leanne without whom I wouldn't have been considered. I do feel very lucky to have been a part of this I really do, working with some of the best creatives around, and most of all I really miss it now, it wasn't long enough a run.
There’s talk of doing it again at some future date dependent on funding and I hope so, I put a lot into this play, it truly was a collaboratively devised piece and it’s to all our credits that we came up with a play that deserved to be seen, still deserves to be seen, and above all is a credit to the banner of excellence of the Royal Exchange Theatre, the greatest theatre in the world.
I wrote this last sentence in a thank you email to Bryony Shanahan the forthcoming new co AD at the Exchange who came to see the show. Hope she really liked it. She ought to have done, even if it was still a bit raw in it’s previews when she saw it.
Talking of raw, the rawness and the fact that we filmed everything so Dan could often write up our lines from the video, took me right back to City Acting Studio Salford 1991-92 where as I’ve said before I got my acting mojo. Funny these rehearsals put my mojo trough the grindstone with the same process, but I’ve come out the other side a little stronger and much, much wiser. So all good.
Crying was a big part of this show, for myself and Leanne. There were 3 moments in this play where I had to cry big time. Was that too many? I think not, because all were valid.
Lots of people said to me that Leanne and I have real chemistry. We really fucking do! I’ve never found this with any other actor that I’ve ever worked with, I’ve often heard critics going on about chemistry between actors or bemoaning the lack of it and often wondered about it.. But this was powerful first hand evidence of it. It was there when we worked on Mr Browns Directions in Hull, felt it very strongly. It’s easy to get moved by her. Sad thoughts help of course too and the most powerful thought I had was something I didn’t and wouldn’t say to Leanne, for fear she’d think it sounded creepy, though I almost know she wouldn’t. It’s the big regret that I’ve never been a dad and looking into this beautiful young woman's eyes who could very well be my daughter that I’d forgot and of course she was in this, and I believed it for that moment.
What I will take away from this experience mostly is a completely different take on dementia. I still consider it a horror, but the humanity behind this attack on humanity and losing your memories doesn’t make you less human. That stories are important to everyone, regardless of whether they have dementia or not. I like telling my oft repeated stories, so does my mum and to never begrudge anyone the joy in recanting their stories/memories even if you have heard them a million time before.
Anyway here’s my first & only week of rehearsal diary entries, just so I can big up the moment of being an actor in a Royal Exchange show!
Mon 3rd June
At The Royal Exchange, I’m excited sitting in the Green room an actor in a Royal exchange show, (even if it’s not one actually in the wonderful, magical lunar module), before the others arrive. Leanne arrived with her baby, Nia, really cute baby & her mum, Gail helping her. Director Dan Mallaghan, Paul (aka Fabric Lenny, visual artist ) & Yvonne, who took the original photo that I was poster boy for and filmed the visuals that are going to be in the show.
Amy Clewes the Royal Exchange’s producer is there and she’s lovely warm & friendly. She takes us to do a meet and greet in the hospitality suite overlooking St Anns Square everyone mingles for a few minutes in pairs I seem to be the only one without a close confederate !
Then Amy gets everyone into a semi circle and we all introduce ourselves, Director of Creative Learning, operations etc, (women are strongly represented here, predominant, which is really great). I just say I’m Nik actor in Wrestling the walrus & try to appear all nonchalant & professional actor like not at all phased by being at the greatest theatre in the world!
Afterwards I admit to Amy how much I love the Royal exchange and have been coming here since seeing 12th Night & she mentions Tom Courtenay’s name before I do, who’s Malvolio in the 1978? version was the one I was alluding to, even though the Exchange did it again a couple of years ago (a version I desperately wanted to Belch in & wrote to caster JKS begging him to see me for, although I don’t tell her this!) She seems genuinely interested
Then we all walk the 10-15 min walk to the Royal exchange’s rehearsal studios on Swan Street, me hobbling away after still suffering with ankle injury and Amy shows us building, gives us a talk on how we all have the right to work in a safe environment, bullying in the workplace etc and gives us electronic key fobs for the doors.
While the set is being slotted together, it’s a massive pre built thing in segments, a grassy mound with a park bench on it and a 4 sided wooden framework which they call a pagoda, but which really is a pergola!
It’s already visually arresting without the visual effects which will be projected onto it’s back screen.
Dan, Leanne and I are sat in kitchen & Dan gets all his notebooks out with his story ideas and bullet points as well as Fabric Lenny’s nightmarish drawings.
He says that he doesn’t want this to be a play about dementia, but rather a play about storytelling and the millions of little memories that define us. Also touched on types of dementia & he’s settled on ‘Lewy bodies’ which is specifically one involving hallucinations which he wants, particularly a cat!
Tues 4th June
Paul (Fabric Lenny) & Yvonne (are they a couple? , are there when I arrive, Dan & Leanne, without baby Nia today soon after. This morning we’re going to be filming bits for a trailer on the set so close ups panning across my face and Leanne writing post it notes, which are a common thing associated with reminding dementia sufferers to turn things off, not to forget keys on leaving house etc etc.
They record me audibly saying things “ Let me tell you a story about my life”
After lunch we head over to the Exchange again where we’re going to be filming a nightmare sequence that I have in a maze of corridors and cages suggesting my mind I guess. We’re in the bowels of the Royal exchange, there’s an underground car park which I never knew about and we go through a little door into what is used as the theatre’s archives department. Amy from the exchange is with is even gets to participate as we are all filmed by Yvonne from the back of our heads. A light mounted on the camera is the only light we have, back & forth, meandering around the passages.
I say to Amy how funny it is to be filming my characters memory of a nightmare when I am surrounded by so many happy memories of my past in the form of royal exchange programmes, posters and photos of past shows.
Wed 5th June
Just Leanne, Dan & I today, so first day of working on the play properly.
Leanne has worked with 154 before knows Dan’s methods, there’s an understanding between them, so I feel a bit vulnerable as an outsider from their way of working. Dan likes his vignettes. 10 second scenes to suggest things like passage of time, try to get my head round what at first seems quite a ‘bitty’ way of working whilst not wanting to be closed to their way of working and willing to embrace it, initially find it hard to grasp and understand, but it does seem quite an effective tool.
Get ever such a lovely message from Leanne on WhatsApp in eve reassuring me by telling me she is grateful to me for making her return to work after baby so easy, which is so lovely. She obviously senses my difficulty with this process She is such a very sensitive & considerate woman and I could want no better actor to work opposite
Thurs 6th June
Had a really good morning, most rewarding rehearsal so far going through the ‘wrestling’ scene, my big monologue bit telling story of how I wrestled a bear or it might have been a tiger or a walrus. I’d come up with names for the wrestling characters for example a big fat hairy wrestler who looks the spit of Pavarotti called Pulverotti geddit!!!? And who’s entrance is to the strains of Nessun Dorma, and me with my once physique of an Ancient Greek hero Jason who arrives in a golden fleece robe! Initially I wanted heroically to save the bear but Dan says he doesn’t want the character to be too compassionate, or to care about this in a way he says that people back in the day didn’t! Or said inappropriate things. Sweeping generalisations aside, I'm just glad he let me be the ageing punk rocker that I'd come up, though remains to be seen whether what we came up with ends up in the play, as after filming us do the scenes he’ll write them up over the weekend.
The afternoon’s a bit of a blur as to what we actually did, (I keep thinking even if inappropriately that this play about a muddled mind is muddling mine), but we did come up with names for the characters. Well Fabric Lenny had apparently already come up with Meg for my missus. I’d thought of Max for me, and Dan wasn’t keen on two names the same letter, not even a hint that Meg was up for negotiation, but he let me keep Max but Max known as Mog! Meg & Mog. I thought straight away of Mog the Forgetful cat! No-one else seemed to & I said nothing as that appealed to me!
Shared a vulnerable story with Leanne on a break touching on without elaborating on feelings that I’ve had a couple of times in plays when I’ve felt so vulnerable that I’ve feared I could be replaced. Dan came in on this and Leanne although well meaning, brought him into this private moment, cheerfully saying to Dan something like “Well Dan’s not going to fire you are you Dan?” To which Dan said No…pause… ‘not yet anyway!” I am too bloody honest for my own good sometimes!
Friday 7th June.
So we started to structure the play. Dan has a role of paper like wallpaper rolled out on the floor and we were sitting around arranging bits of card on it from my story, Leanne’s story, where our memories meet in real time & memory.
I let Leanne do the writing down & arranging of things, whilst I neatly folded & tore the paper into strips, trying to get my head round the process. in truth this chart was giving me a headache, like diagrams in school used to do!
We went through the first scene in the afternoon and Dan wants a false start, I liked this idea at first bit then Dan mixed it up and seemed to throw out all the truthful thought processes that we’d found, connected to the order a sandwich box, sketch book etc were brought out and my thing about 2 ways up the hill thing into an entirely different and random order confusing things.
At this stage I don’t understand enough about dementia to be able to know that what I’m doing is convincing. It’s a bit more like OCD the way Dan’s having me do stuff just now, maybe that’s right, I don’t know, don’t think he does, and I know he wants to show good practice in all of this with it. A woman called Clare was supposed to be coming in to talk about this but Dan had made a mistake on the days. Are we in the care home or are we on the hill. Dan was initially adamant we were in the care home in this first scene, although now to his credit, he’s not sure himself and is thinking that this is a real memory. Or is he? I think he wants the whole hour or so of the play to be in ‘real time’ where I’m on the hill in my world, Leanne’s in the care home humouring me with my stories & trying to get me to eat, sleep etc, and there’s a third dimension (or fifth!!!) where we meet.
We’re into like dance territory here with me, my kryptonite!! By that I mean doing something that I’m not enjoying, can’t seem to get right, makes me weak, lessens my powers, erodes my mojo and I know I’m apologising too much!
There’s a lot going to be going on in the play, with the same visual imagery that’s in a lot of 154’s plays and I can't help feeling the actors are quite a bit down down the priority order here, but even if that's true, that’s just the way they work and I have to accept that & mustn’t let that worry affect my getting there with the character and any of the ‘effects’ distract me.
SO at the end of the first week, looking ahead to the next & with 3 weeks to go today til opening night, what I need to most is convincingly portray this man going through this thing. To not get upset by it, as I am likely to do looking into its effects more deeply. It may prove to be one of the most difficult acting jobs I’ve ever had, but if I can smash this & turn in a great performance I will be happy, even more if I can make an impression with the Royal Exchange.
I believe Mog’s spirit is still there even though it’s fragmented by the dementia and my spirit as Nik shall not be broken either. I MUST BELIEVE IN MYSELF, do what I think is right for the good of the play and the truth of the character and always, ALWAYS strive to keep good SPIRIT.