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 & genteel girl. She had 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 it’s absence 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, even though I don’t 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 years of not having 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 have however never felt part of that fraternity of trannies. Being honest I've never felt terribly comfortable with most 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, well my way of telling was to set up a facebook page for my ’Tara Power’ (dressing up as a woman is my super power) I've always felt 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 sometimes I feel so lonely I fantasise about a woman stalking me! Yes, I am that sad!)
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! As Tara I befriended my friend Tasha on facebook and when I met up with Tash, (as me), 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!!!!
Now 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 dread dying without ever finding love. 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.
Memories are such a huge part of what makes us human. I am about to start working on a play where the characters memories are under attack from dementia, making him less a human? Well that is something I have to disprove.
How terrifying to forget your life, even the regrets and the bad things, for they shape you and you hopefully learn from mistakes. Personally I spend a lot of time making the mistake about thinking about romantic disappointments and the dream desire to be loved by someone who I equally love has become unfortunately a lifetime quest.
One of my favourite movies, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘ deals intelligently and brilliantly with erasing the memory of a lover from the memory, in a dream like science fiction & delightfully imaginative, if splendidly silly way.
It is ultimately a hopeless scenario when 2 such lovers romantically find each other all over again, because they of course have not lost the ability to found new memories. But would you want to have past love remembrances erased anyway? With me I wouldn’t even want the memory of love that never got off the ground erased. Even though I do so apparently love to morbidly dwell on such memories and frequently, indulgently beat myself up with them.
But some memories are to be cherished & to lose them is to lose the person and you feel this most acutely when that person has gone, and I have just heard that a woman I loved very much has died.
I met Jacqueline Jones over 20 years ago through tour guiding in London and I fell in love with her. She never reciprocated, she was in a relationship and eventually married and had children, moved away, but still wanted me to be her friend.
It is to my lasting regret that I selfishly wouldn't let her be.
She died of a brain tumour, and apparently just 7 weeks after complaining of headaches, I had not thought about her for quite a few years, but her dying as made me full of sorrow and I am reminded just how much I did love her and even though I thought I'd got over her, wonder if I actually had, wonder why I’d jealously unfriended her 3 or 4 years ago. Was not allowing myself to be her friend, just a silly way of taking it out on her for in many ways epitomising my inability to find lasting love?
So I’ve written her a letter to try my best to explain, to say sorry to her, in a way that I am now heartbreakingly denied doing in life.
In my crazy mind I'm imagining this letter going out to you in the ether to reach her sometime in an eternity where there is no time and I hope indulgently & selfishly she will some time remember me and miss me as much as I miss her, and call me deluded or sad or anything else as disturbed, but I miss her terribly.
May 31st 2019
You will never see this and if you can, I know just now you rightly wouldn’t notice anyway as your focus will be comforting your children & Barney, who at this moment will be terribly missing you more than I could ever imagine.
I’m crying as I write this and it’s sorrow for myself as much as the fact that I won't see you again , sorrow how I lost you as a friend, because of my own jealousy & stupidity. I only knew you for a short number of years, and you had a huge life afterwards that I never knew about and chose not to be a part of, even though I could have.
We were last in contact on Facebook 4 years ago when you commented on a picture of my dad that I’d posted for his birthday, saying that he looked Welsh. It takes someone Welsh to know someone Welsh and you were right!
I shut you out of my life because of romantic disappointment. I took it out on you for being my biggest. And no shit, you were. Not that we ever were romantically involved. I desired you strongly, but you didn't or wouldn't see me like that.
I remember the New Years eve Millennium running like an attention seeking little child away from central London’s revellers and the chance of spending it with you & your intended Barney Spender! It was jealousy, pure jealousy that you loved him & not me. I ran to my friend Therese’s house near Bromley.
I remember one particular night of many, many, many nights in a pub with you, it was ‘The Ring’ in Southwark where we’d spent nights before in the good company of others, enjoying their lock ins, but this late night it was just you & I left, others had gone. We both had had a lot to drink, as usual. We both were in that dreadful Big Bus Company uniform, we rarely saw each other out of it, and we spent the bulk of every week daylight hours in it!
I’d picked my time, as usual, horrendously badly and blurted out that I loved you fuelled by alcohol, but with no less sincerity. I think I may have been more calculating as you’d had a big spat with Barney, but my advances such as they were, were met with your wonderful scowl, a scowl I loved you so much for, and a ‘Don’t be so fucking stupid, you don’t love me!” Or something like that. When you frowned it was amazing, your brow wrinkled on one side of your forehead spiralling complicatedly in to what I likened to a finger print. It was another feature I adored about you.
You were a handful. I remember Liz Hogg saying that about you, and that wasn’t a criticism, from those of us who loved you dearly, it was a lovely fact, something we loved you for, and that’s a tremendous complement to you. Not many could be loved for being a handful!
So you told me off for loving you, refusing to accept that I really did. You were the most intelligent woman I have ever loved or ever known and you may have been right, but I did love you. My saying I loved you, made me a handful for you, you were in a relationship and even if you had desired me, you wouldn’t have jeopardised that, and that was intelligent. Profoundly disappointing for me but sensible. But you knew I wasn’t sensible. I flatter myself that my being completely not sensible was one of the reasons you liked to hang out with me. But you would never have married me outside of my dreams, but that didn’t stop me loving you, and yes I really was in love with you and still am.
I see pictures of your daughter Sydney now a young woman, who has inherited your beauty, who when last I saw her she was a young baby when I visited you at your home in Nunhead and I realise that a short time after that I just stopped knowing you, particularly when you moved away to France, though I became even more distant, you were a mum and have a son too, who I don’t know the name of.
My desire for you was like a dusty antique that had been left there on the shelf and I realise as you surely did, that my attempts to block you out were simply a symptom of my never having moved on, of how I have consistently been disappointed and dread always being so, (I've long suspected that perversely I'm only attracted to unattainable women), If I’d met someone to be in overwhelming love with for always, I would have moved on and we’d have been the most brilliant friends. I’d never have not wanted you to be my friend. But I didn’t, I still haven’t and am terrified I never will, so all the shitty resentment and jealousy has been eating me up ever since.
And it’s funny because I can still see you mouthing the word “bollocks” in response to this, but this time with a smile. And you will surely think, rightly what a rambling, pointless, self centred, self indulgent outpouring all this is, and it is.
I’m sorry I missed out on being your friend, all the times you came to London, which you loved and I could've valued the pleasure of your company, instead of cutting that pleasure off in spite of my happiness.
I miss all the laughter and all the good times we made out of the soul destroying tour guiding, and being thwarted in not being able to do what we wanted. I am so happy you found actual happiness and I can see you smiling sweetly and your beautiful, beautiful face and now a playful “fuck off!"
You were fearless, it was just like you the time that you rounded on a threatening bunch of Mayday rioters at the foot of Nelson’s column after graffiti had been daubed all down Whitehall, telling them off ferociously and leaving them speechless, they didn’t know what had hit them!
I can hear our friend Ian Birrell, who like you lost this life criminally young, (I miss the dear, dear, characterful souls out of both of you), teasing me about fancying you and losing out to 'Spender', (he always affected a Geordie accent in mentioning Barney’s name in reference to Jimmy Nail’s title character in the tv drama Spender ), We were at your wedding at Brompton Oratory along with a lot of the other Big Bus drinking gang, and he was playfully goading me to interject at the “ If anyone knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage, he or she should declare it now. “ bit to whisk you off!
I wouldn’t have dared as you’d have gone absolutely, frighteningly ballistic, charged up to me, telling me to get out in no uncertain terms, before returning to Barney & you'd have hated me for ever more. I hope you didn’t think I was a cunt for cutting you out of my life, I hope you won't think me a cunt for admitting to still being jealous of Barney even now. I mean how could you marry someone who doesn't even have something as characterful as eyebrows!!
How stupid I am. What a cunt I am. I know I could never have changed things, it was totally irrational to behave the way I did, nothing was to be gained, I just wish I could have just accepted things and been grown up about it, because It was my loss to lose being friends with one so fabulous as you, and it will be my eternal regret, one of my greatest, that I never will get the chance to say sorry to you in life, even though you never really stopped being my friend.
“Welcome back Oh Prodigal One” you jokingly messaged me in 2011 after we’d not been in contact for quite a number of years. I remember you calling me cantankerous, which I thought at the time over the issue you called me it was unfair, but I guess I was so to you. I bore a silly grudge I'm ashamed to admit. I like to think you understood & didn’t think bad of me for disappearing again, but you may have thought I was just being a cunt!
You were really supportive about me doing Beatle Mal in 2012, bigging me up on Facebook , and how did I repay you? One day I let my green eyed monster out & spitefully unfriended you on bloody Facebook. Leaving Faceybook aside, jow shitty a thing to do to a friend is that?
I’m sorry Jacqueline that I missed out on being your friend after you got married, my shit got in the way and It was my personal, very huge loss that I missed out on all the years I could've known you as life changed so wonderfully for you.
I am so, so sorry Jacqueline that you've been taken from your family and so suddenly. It must have been such a shock to you & you must have been so frightened to lose those close to you, even for one as courageous as you, who would so fearlessly take on the world in the name of good & I am I am more sorry than I could ever say in words. OH FUCK, I WISH TO THE POWER OF WISHES THAT YOU WERE STILL HERE!
I want to say something stupid like, if I could have taken this horrible brain tumour on for you, heroically in a “It is a far, far better thing I do now, than I have ever done before” sort of way, then I would!
I’m trying to visualise what you would say to that, most likely:“Oh fuck off, of course you wouldn’t, & don't be so insultingly stupid!" You would really tell me off for that stupid comment I know you would!
I will just say then that if I am ever lucky enough to meet a woman as lovely as you, (Oh please that I am), and who loves me back, then I will have had the greatest luck ever in the history of luck & better than any glittering awards that acting or anything could ever give me.
And then I see that wonderful, wonderful scowl that becomes your beautiful, sweet, sweet smile.
Love always & never forget you
Here's poem I wrote about Jacqueline 17 or 18 years ago...
A frown like a finger print & scowl that was a howl,