Back to work

The year started last week.
I’m now in rehearsals for Playbites at the Oxford Playhouse at lunchtime on Monday Feb 3 (a sandwich, a coffee and six playlets for a mealy £5! Can’t be bad), and A Last Belch for the Great Auk at the Old Fire Station in Oxford on April 1 (honest) and 2 at 6.30.
Belch is by David Halliwell, who was a good friend of mine when I was in Charlbury. We were going to do Belch together, but the timing was never quite right, and he died in 2006 before we got round to t. Fortunately, Sarah Dodd from the Oxford Playhouse loved the play when I showed it to her and she’s directing me and Alexa Brown in a production which is being staged as part of Oxfringe 2009. We’re hoping to get a tour off the back of it.
It’s a great play and deserves to find its legs. Since David died, I’ve realised just how many links and connections he’s made for me over the last few years. I’m hoping to pull some of those in to see the production, and then…..
I’m also going to be doing at least one Playbites in April (April 3 and April 10 (part of Oxfringe), and my usual Jam on That? spoken word performance nights at the Jam Factory on Monday February 2 (free), Monday March 2 (free) and Monday April 6 (part of Oxfringe - £3 entry). And there’s the medical roleplays stuff - I’m doing a few sessions on ‘Breaking Bad News’. I’m the patient who gets the bad news. Could be fun! I usually prefer ‘The Angry Patient’ cos I do it so well!
And I did two Burns Suppers this year, one at the Jam Factory, and one for my good mate Al. Both were great fun. I drank too much whisky, and filled up on haggis neeps and tatties, crannaghan (at Al’s) and cheese and oatcakes (Al’s). Grooaaan! I addressed the haggis which is always a joy. Next year, I’m going to get the Jam organised to do a proper Burns night, like I used to do in Charlbury.

I’m going to go to Etiquette, part of the Oxford Playhouse Plays Out series. You get a partner, book at table at George and Delila’s on the Cowley Road in Oxford and get headphones with instructions. Could be great! And I can’t wait for the opening night of Anthony Nelson’s new play Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, which starts on March 31 at the Soho Theatre. I wanted to be in it, but the casting director did a successful job of blocking my path. The last time I phoned her assistant told me they would get back to me ‘only if they wanted to see me’. I found out later that day that the whole thing had already been cast. Why couldn’t she just tell me that. I was only phoning up to find out if I should keep pursuing it - a simple yes or no would have sorted it all out and I wouldn’t have had to hassle anyone.

And I can’t wait to see both my boys in a dance performance at the Oxford Playhouse on March 28. Aidan will be the third in our family to perform on the Playhouse stage. In case you’re wondering, no, I was second. Grrrr that pesky Dylan. WhyIoughtta…..

The last in a short series of grandad posts

Next post - back to work! But having blogged about both my ex-grandad in laws, this is how I got to know my grandad.

When I was growing up, my mums dad always seemed a bit ragey, a bit fiery, a bit snappy and a bit grumpy. When I was 13, his wife, my Gran, died. I remember sitting on the roof of the garage out the back of my mum and dad’s house not long after, and my grandad came out. He sat on our swing, with his back to me, I don’t think he’d noticed me when he came out.

I picked a few rowan berries off the tree next to the garage and threw them at him - ok, ok, but I was 13, remember. They hit him on the back of his bald head. He jumped off the swing and came over to the roof calling me a cheeky monkey or something. He grabbed my ankle, which was dangling over the edge of the roof and we both just had one of those ‘kaboom’ moments. I looked into his eyes and knew him for the first time. I knew how much he’d loved my gran and how much pain he was in and how lonely he was.

We were kind of best friends after that - although when I had long hair he never quite got it and said I looked like Princess Diana. Hey it worked for Green from Scritti Politti!

He used to take me to the Rangers games at that time, we were both blue noses. The I started going to the games with my mates, leaving from Inverurie at some ungodly hour, into Aberdeen to catch a train to Glasgow - or Falkirk or Hamilton. Then, when I passed my driving test, I started taking him to the games.

Don’t call me a glory hunter by the way. I supported Rangers from about the age of seven, but when I started going to the games regularly in about 1979, they were terrible. This was before Hillsborough etc - most of the away grounds you stood on the terrace, and inevitably at some point some old boy would piss down the back of your leg. Or someone would pee in a beer can (yup!) and lob it into the crowd. Civilised, I know. Ibrox was the exception of course, because it had been made all-seater in 1980. It was opened with two friendlies against Man City and Ipswich (I think it was Ipswich), and my grandad and I went to both games.

We had a striker called Andy Kennedy, who was a bit of a cult figure because he didn’t score. Or something. I saw his first three or four games, and I saw his first goal. I saw Ally McCoist’s first for Rangers and his record-breaking last. I saw Davie Cooper and Willie Johnstone (in his second spell at Ibrox - or was it third). Then there was the Souness revolution with Butcher, Hately, Woods, the Stevens’s, Walters - and Terry Hurlock. And of course Brian Laudrup and Gazza.  was lucky enough to go the Scottish Football Writers Awards the year Gazza won. His salmon pink suit is burned indelibly into my mind as is his err… speech.

My grandad never saw Rangers win their first Premier League title for nine years in 1987. We were at the League Cup final in November (a 2-1 win over Celtic) and he went to the toilet in a pub, slipped and fell. We didn’t know it then, but he injured himself internally and had internal bleeding. Two months later he had a turn and was taken to hospital. The whole family managed to go in to see him that night, and when they told us he was dying, we were all there, all night.

I felt like I’d lost my best friend, but I always felt that was the way to go. No gradual fade away, just a painless (hopefully) passing, with all the family around. And up til the end, he’d been able to rage against the dying of the light (and pretty much everything else).

Everything matters, but nothing matters much

The last blog, about my second ex-wife’s grandad, got me thinking about my first ex-wife’s grandad. Actually, it got me thinking about all my ex in-laws. I’ve been pretty lucky on the whole. Two great fun ex father-in-laws, two lovely ex mother-in-laws (both of whom occasionally drove me nuts), one great ex sister-in-law who went through phases of more than occasionally driving me nuts, but is actually lovely (hey, I helped her make her 16th birthday Dougal cake), and four great ex-grandparent-in-laws. Quite a collection. And that’s the immediate family without mentioning cousins (universally great) and mad aunties and uncles (some great, but not all).

My first ex grandad-in-law was brilliant. He lived a life. He occasionally got malaria, and had shrapnel from the second world war Far East campaign, which occasionally  gave him gip. He was a prisoner of war in Burma and was missing presumed dead for two years. He was a merchant seaman, a diver, an engineer, a fire extinguisher salesman (which led to his ex-son-in-law forming his own fire protection company, a compulsive setter up of companies (many of which were successful), and when he was 70-odd he cured his own tobacco, smoked his own fish (smoked his own tobacco too) and built his own boats. He was from the sea.

I used to love going over to their croft at Whitecairns. It reeked of his pipe, and the wall was a different colour above his chair - I think it’s called taup, maybe aubergine. We used to play draughts for four hours three or four times a week for about two years. He could play chess, but thought draughts was a better game strategically. I used to chew a corn cob pipe but not smoke it.

It took me about five months before I beat him. But the sense of achievement was awesome. By the way, I think it’s time to be controversial. Talking of awesome victories, I beat the World Squash Champion, Peter Nicol in a competitive match once. (Ok, ok, he was nine, I was 14, and I can’t actually remember if I did beat him, but I’m pretty sure I did. It was a league match at the Garioch Squash court - they used to do great discos, I had my first night with Eleanor Wood there. That was a good night. Wow, where is this coming from?

He was probably a difficult dad for his daughters and son. It was probably especially difficult for his son to escape his shadow, because he was such a strong character, which is probably why his son lived 500 miles away in London.

I’ve know quite a few characters. Most of them were highly flawed individuals, who were not always easy to be friends with, but I was always glad they were my friend (esp David Halliwell and Igor Goldkind).

What’s the point of being grey when you have a chance to be full, glorious Technicolour and CinemaScope (and with a bit of luck 50 glorious feet high). What’s the point of not challenging Norm? What’s the point of settling for anything less than everything. It takes time, but never give up your dreams. They may be just around the corner.

What can you get for £5,000?

My second ex-wife’s grandad, George, left me £5,000 in his will which was lovely. It was also slightly odd, because as far as I know, he wasn’t aware that we had split up (we split for a trial on Halloween 2006, and, because the trial worked so well (!) for good in January 2007 - he died a few weeks later).

I was going to buy a car with the money. I came VERY close to agreeing to buy a Karmann Ghia, which is my all-time favourite car, but I just didn’t need a car, even one that looks like a Karmann Gia.

I don’t need one on a daily basis - if  i drive to work it takes 20 minutes, if I get a bus it takes 35, if I walk it takes 35 and if I cycle it takes 10. No Brainer.

I also thought there were better uses for my money. It was time to get organised. I’d bought my boat, which has proved to be the perfect place to start again, although there’s no escaping from the fact that sometimes I like to stretch out and not be able to touch both walls at the same time!

Now I needed several other key things. A showreel, a website, upgraded subscriptions to a couple of casting organisations, my ongoing Equity and Spotlight subscriptions and membership of the Actors Centre, oh and a divorce (it seems somehow apt). The money has also paid for the first quarter back on dry land (I should be ship shape in the new place in about ten days), and it also helped me to have one of the best year’s of my life - it’s certainly up there in the top ten.