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It’s a status thing: we can’t back down; refuse to give way first. We’d rather wait for the other to show willing or encourage something further. This status thing sounds a lot like fear. Good improvisation relies on brave offers and the ability to accept whatever is thrown your way. It’s too easy to say ‘no’ – we’re all terrified of rejection. It we play it cool and disengage; pretend we’re not that bothered what happens in the end then we protect ourselves. Protect ourselves from what? From never having to fully live a single moment honestly. But this isn’t improvisation.
A hotel full of secrets and heart-shaped window trinkets stored in an album too public to be private but closed all the same. Stepping into the foyer of this pop-up book of memories to pick the room with the clearest view. From here I can see gondoliers standing in the cold spring sunlight gazing out into the southern lagoon. I see a young woman drinking hot coffee in a Parisian plaza and a friend fingering an Estrella on a Catalan balcony a stone’s throw from Las Ramblas. Now I see the BT Tower and the Embankment kissed by night-time lights.
They say these things come in threes, and so it is: another death. I shouldn’t be surprised, it happens every second of every day. This one hits you harder than the others. He was given the weekend but you couldn’t make it back to see him. What else would you have told him? Anything you would have said, he already knew.
We woke up today and realised we’re nearly at the end of term – it’s passed by in a blur. Some of us will remember it as being a dark one, save for the odd ray of light or two.
An outstanding dancer, he’s travelled the world with the finest companies and performed in some astounding theatres but we were all unsure of his commitment to the ensemble. Initially, at least. He’s had his prima donna hissy-fits and recovered beautifully to the point where we couldn’t survive without him. He’s aware of his weaknesses and we’re able to gently prod him now if he wanders into a precious mood. He brings so much dedication, humour and style – the guy’s a fashion guru – to the group but more than this: he’s always first to congratulate and support. It’s a real pleasure.
He’s about four foot five and his face is creased in agony, at least that’s what it looks like. He’s drunk: one eyebrow is raised at every stop desperately trying to focus on the station name to see if he’s any closer to home. His head sits squashed onto his body, sticking out at an angle, like a jagged fingernail. He has the face of an East-end boxer and the body of a withered child, all hunched and curled. He’s a perfect distraction from what’s really on my mind; what I really should be writing about but that’s the point.
Unusually, on the tube heading home on a Friday night after another late rehearsal. I know I won’t wake up in north London tomorrow morning and stumble into rehearsal in the clothes I’m wearing now (unless I justify it as a good idea – which I’m prone to!) Pleased to be seeing housemates I’ve neglected all too often recently; partly disappointed I won’t be sharing secrets elsewhere. Break-though today for the group: sure she kept us until nine but we shared a surprise beer afterwards, which she appreciated and we really needed. Not long to go now and it’ll be finished.
Another Saturday rehearsal sat in the same corridor staring out across at the black guttering crawling up the red-brick office block like a greasy vein. Behind the aerials and chimney stacks a stardestroyer of cloud passes my window into the next frame and beyond. I can hear Dylan Thomas brought to life in several voices – Captain Cat and the Reverend Eli Jenkins rolling off the tongue like raindrops falling in the Gower. Bags, clothes, boxes and people litter the corridor reminding me of my hall at uni. The pizza boxes have turned into crates for props and costumes. Funny world.
Sitting at the top of Abbeville Road, we were so reluctant to leave this house behind; the perfect location with a local or two, but a building site now. Now we’ve seen the new house and it’s a wonder we’ve put up with this place for as long as we have. We’ll be a stone’s throw from a stretch of bars, restaurants and patisseries brimming with fine wines and fresh coffee. There’s a farmers’ market at the weekend and a shop that sells nothing but honey, books on honey and novelty bee-shaped goods. No, the credit-crunch hasn’t quite hit there!
A premonition: he’s three days into life as a non-smoker, he’s addressed his diet, restricted his alcohol intake (not that it was colossal in the first place) and tidied his room. In short, he’s making changes. Romantic entanglements – and he was snared – have been cut loose and he’s arranging dates with other people. All in all, things are moving in the right direction; he’s determined to grasp control of his life. Everything seemed to be spiralling rapidly away from him before, but from this point on he is assured of his decision-making capabilities. I only hope it lasts for him.
Every spring as the days slowly get longer and the sun feels a little stronger they start to creep onto my playlist. Just the favourites at first, slipped into whatever I’ve been listening to during the winter, then one by one they all make an appearance until I’m playing the entire back-catalogue on repeat. They take me straight back to that last summer in college when we were getting ready to leave. The final bus journeys home, air-drumming on the back row, sweltering in the sun. The Belgian Monk on a Thursday night then the balmy walk home next morning.
I remember mum and dad arguing as a kid; the rows could be blazing and prolonged. We knew to steer clear or we’d hear things that weren’t intended for our ears. I’d sit at the top of the stairs trying to pick out words and referee the match awarding points or calling fouls. Dad would lower his voice and adopt these hushed tones if he was talking about us, certain that we couldn’t hear. Sometimes I caught it. I comforted myself and said they only argued so fiercely because they loved each other so passionately. I guess I was wrong.
He can’t meet my eye: every time I look up from my book he shifts his gaze away from mine. I’d say he was sixteen; his mate might be a little older but not by much. He’s got a gold front tooth – his mate – and he runs the tip of his tongue around the contours as the tube bobs along. Boy number one cradles a small bottle of wine in a black plastic bag, fingering the faux-diamonds on his ring and playing with the bag. His fringe is cut into a perfect rectangle – his forehead looks just like a post-box.
How to write that?
She says ‘please’ a lot I’ve noticed. It’s not that she’s overly polite, perhaps it’s developed as a method for getting what she wants – an effective one. ‘Please can I have some water please? Can we go to the shop now please?’ But I never thought I’d hear her say that. It made me smile; perhaps a hundred smiles reflected in a glitterball spinning around the room. It’s late now, much later then you think, and the blues and mauves of morning are glowing through the black.
I’ll say I woke up from the strangest dream.
The sun concertinas across my face, perched up high behind the BT Tower. My head feels heavy and my mouth is dry. I listen for the ice cream man but it’s early and he’s probably asleep somewhere fighting off cornetto-shaped dreams. The rose sits in a shaded corner, withered and brown, in it’s plastic wrapping but it’s still here and I’m still here, smiling. A chorus-line of legless busts squat on the shelf anticipating the next number, waiting to exhale and splutter life into the room once more. I find the floor with my feet and I leave again, smiling.
Our first full day in the new house in Battersea (pronounced like Belgravia we’ve decided!) and what a beautiful day for it. The pictures are finally back up – condemned to boxes on top of a wardrobe for so long – and I have my room again. Memories of Avignon, a lone walker in Piccadilly Circus, a young Prospero and the beautiful bridge across the Argentinian lake: they all contain a part of me. I feel comfortable for the first time in months. Sure, there’s much that’s far from perfect but the spring sunshine brings some new beginnings. You fit here perfectly.
I’ve been sat for ten minutes staring into space with book and pen clasped loosely in my hands. My brain idly flicks through events that could be written about – I stumble across a line (she is a word that cannot be written for fear…) but can’t find an ending so abandon it and let it float off into the same space I’m staring into. At the end of a long term and the late nights and early starts have begun to take their toll. I wouldn’t change it though; we talk through the late nights and I can’t lie in.
Twenty weeks of pure movement and yoga stretches with Laban thrown in for good measure and I’m still struggling to walk up and down stairs after yesterday’s football match. Two hours playing in Regents Park in glorious sunshine with the obligatory drama school half time massage and roll-downs was a perfect way to kick-off the week. A picnic with music, staring up at the sky as the sun slipped away; a steady walk back with ice creams (Blackcur Ant flavour no less!) then onto the singing extravanganza. Farcical but fun I suppose. Four days left and we’re all done again.
Catching the train this morning I had the strongest urge to go to St Pancras and jump on the Eurostar to Paris for a day of coffee-drinking, people-watching, sun-seeking bliss. I’ve got a copy of Satre’s ‘Age of Reason’ in my bag and an uncut script for ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ tucked under my arm. Sadly I’ve given up coffee for lent and really should go into school today for various feedback sessions with my tutors. There’s also the small problem of financing this little excursion. So to Goodge Street instead. That table in Paris will be there later.
Three steps away was all it took to know the answer to the question. Heart in mouth, head spinning, legs no longer supported by the ground. One word was enough to stop him in his tracks and start again. To realise what could be lost through the ‘ifs’ and, ‘whys’ and, ‘buts’. It was sunny out; she was smoking. He was standing with his back to her looking up at the flats across the way – an aeroplane was crashing to earth, reflected in a window – and birds were singing. I don’t think they were singing for me.
Three long steps.
She veered between quiet enthusiasm and wild passion (the milder end of the spectrum perhaps). Regardless, her feedback was overwhelming positive. She seemed able to break down who I am and comment accurately on what needed to be developed. I think I nodded in all the right places and understood a portion of what was being said but was left wanting at points. She was so passionate that it seemed rude to interrupt and clarify a few of the more important points. Foolish, but I can’t seem to get away from myself. I think her point was that I should.
My dad once wrote a list, when he was a younger man, of fifty things he wanted to achieve. A ‘bucket list’ of sorts but far less dramatic. Not experiences to tick off before he died but modest goals that any man might reasonably expect to achieve. I found the list years later, littered with spelling mistakes but with most of the numbers crossed out – ‘I have two children: a girl and a boy. I run a successful business. I own two cars. I take at least two (crossed out) three holidays a year.’ Now I have my own list.
The cottage is four hundred and eighty-two years old and was nearly destroyed by fire ten years ago. The thatch roofing and floors collapsed but most of the original timbers were saved. We sit around the wood-burner reading, writing and listening to music in front of the open fire, stoking the flames every once in a while and throwing on more logs. We’re so far away from our routine here - it’s the perfect antidote to the last eleven weeks. A few days of cycling, walking, eating and drinking should sort us out. It’s all very ‘Withnail and I.’ Sherry?
Gliding past woodland and fens on the back of the red tandem; pointing out windmills and churchyards on the way to pick up bread from Mick the Baker. Anywhere else, we’d look very out of place - the old guy trimming his hedge gives us a quick nod and turns back to his distraction – but here we chime with the blustering breeze and the sleepy village life. Gathering wood for the fire as the heavens open, then sitting inside watching the rain tumbling across the fields opposite. Later, the rain has stopped and the sun streams in through the windows.
Eggy bread, mushrooms and bacon. Joanna Newsom yelping sweetly in the kitchen, waiting for the morning bread before we drive to the coast. There’s a palpable calm we’ve found here. We’re in no hurry (it’d be nice to get there before dark) and our minds aren’t being asked to race onto the next problem. Thoughts of Acting are a long way away but creep in once or twice. Scouring the ‘Drama’ section of a second-hand bookshop, everyone tries to find a gem. I find a handful but decide on two. Each one comes with a story of its journey here.
We drove through a ‘Fairyland’ stretch of road, where the trees held hands in a canopy above us, listening to a Christmas album rescued from the glovebox. We meandered back to risotto and beers, Vienetta and wine, then vodka, lime and lemonade. Music and dancing with lots of laughter caught on film – all to be deleted later. We have very little phone signal here, which is such a blessing, I often long for those days before the bastard mobile, so enforced silence is perfect. For today at least, all the people I need are right here with me anyway. Almost.
I feel as though I’ve hit a wall, physically and mentally: having been stretched so thinly for so many weeks my body and mind just want to shut down and recharge. I made a good decision in coming home to see mum but am conscious of being a passenger here. It’s taken all of my energy to put on the enthusiastic face and get excited about shopping and the usual village gossip but I’m giving it my best shot. I’ll be back again soon, I know, but I want my time here to help. It’s still so hard for her.
He’s at a loss – he’s not sure what he should be feeling now but he doesn’t think this is it. He can’t keep getting excited only to walk away feeling like he shouldn’t have made the effort. I can see he’s in unfamiliar territory: he’s always known exactly where he stood with people but this is different, this really caught him out. She comes with extras – impossible to catch alone – with friends who rarely leave her side and a catalogue of others. I’d feel sorry for him if I could but he really should know better. How much is enough?
I had grand designs for Greenwich today: strolling around the markets looking at curios for the new room. Vague intentions of picking up a long overdue birthday present will have to remain vague and unfulfilled. I don’t mind one bit though. A long lie-in, a favourite film and pizza games were much more fun. I’m still sure I lost the competition but wasn’t going to turn down the prize. Losing Monopoly, on the other hand, has never been so enjoyable – who’d have thought Park Lane would be so unpopular? Coventry Street can’t exist but I hope I always land there.
Tiny particles of dust catch the sunlight and spiral upward from the bed like a snow flurry played in reverse. Listening to Gemma Hayes I remember watching her support Radiohead years before at uni. I wonder, vaguely, what she’s up to now. ‘Arcadia’, ‘The Age of Reason’, ‘I, Lucifer’, Thom Pain’, ‘Kill Your Friends’ and, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ sit idly around my room waiting to be finished, started or dipped into on a whim. The shadows lengthen and disappear as the sun dips behind a cloud shaped like a house. All the snow has risen for the night.
White walls, strip lighting, dappled eggshell flooring and a sky-blue paper curtain. Cubicle ten is a pretty bleak place to pass a couple of hours. This is nothing like ‘Scrubs’, it’s not even like ‘ER’: there are no trolleys bursting through the double doors with paramedics holding drips and yelling numbers. There are no wheelchair races, needle fights or humorous cut-aways into JD’s colourful imagination. Instead, I can hear the steady drone of the air-conditioning and wheels scuttling across the eggshell in convoy. There are no windows here. I want to pick you up and fly far away to Disneyland.
Sitting here reminds me of sitting in the back of the car as a kid while dad drove through the night to the airport. No specific destination, just a general memory of being awake and waiting while the rest of the world was soundly sleeping. I’m not counting stars or ducking in and out of headlight glare. I’m not fogging up the glass with my breath or winding down the window to hold a hand out in the rain. I’m sitting, reading you these stories, trying to take your mind off the pain. I’m not as good as Codeine though.
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