Thursday, 25 October 2012

1977. A Jubilee, a lump, and a present you can’t wrap.




I can’t remember much of 1977, well I can, I just choose not to. I started my second year at Preston Catholic College, and the less said about that the better, though I will go into detail at a later date, just need a bit more therapy first. 

It was the Queens Silver Jubilee, it rained, Elvis went to the great Vegas show in the sky, Punk landed like a brick on the glass coffee table of popular music, safety pins and bin bags went up in price, and everyone in class had a copy of ‘Never mind the Bollocks.’ Everyone that is, apart from me. 
I needed a new bag for school, I didn’t want my old satchel, or a briefcase as some of the older schoolboys had. No, I wanted a sports bag, and an Adidas one at that. My Mother, Bless her, gave into my demands and went out and bought me a sports bag. A pale blue sports bag, with an emblem on the front that proudly said ‘1952-1977 The Queen’s Silver Jubilee.’ It would have been easier and cheaper if she’d just written ‘My son’s a puff, please kick him at any opportunity you get,’ because that’s what happened. From the start of the day waiting for a bus to school, the walk through Town, the day at school, the walk back through town, the bus journey home, I got kicked, and not just by school mates, kids from other schools, punks on the bus station, the odd Nun, anyone really. And no matter how much I tried to deface the bag, lose it, burn the bastard, it was indestructible. It stayed pristine. I couldn’t blame my Mother, she thought it was a lovely bag and one that other children would envy. I don’t know where these envious children would have been or what mental state of mind they would have either, but none of them lived in Preston.

That same year I started being a little ill. Tired, grumpy, gawky, hyper active, under active, miserable. And it wasn’t all due to the Jubilee bag. I sprouted what looked like a second Adam’s Apple, just below the original and prominent enough to stop me fastening my shirt collar properly. After a lot of faffing about with a doctor who specialised in not knowing arses from elbows I was finally sent to the hospital for a check up. After many blood tests, prodding and poking, I was diagnosed with having a growth on my thyroid gland and all I needed was a simple operation that would involve slitting my throat open and removing said growth and I would be alright, though my eyes would still resemble a Bush baby on acid. The date for the op kept on being put further back. Time and time again I’d get ready to be admitted to hospital only to be sent home again. It also meant time away from school. Result.  

Knowing I had to go into hospital meant I needed new pyjamas, I couldn’t be wandering around a ward in my pants and vest, it would be like ‘Music and Movement’ for sick children. So, during one particularly cold Autumn half term my Mother took me to Blackpool for a day out and a trip to Brentford Nylons. 

Blackpool out of season is a thing to behold. Everywhere was practically shut, something I was reminded of years later when I started work at Blackpool County Court, January 1995 to be precise. I remember asking one of the women I worked with as to where the best place to get a sandwich was.

‘Just over the road and up the side street,’ she told me. ‘Best sandwiches going.’

I returned an hour later, empty handed and rather hungry.

‘I couldn’t find that shop,’ I told her.

‘Oh, you won’t,’ she said. ‘It only opens from May to October. But they are good sandwiches.’ 

Anyway, back to my tale. We found Brentford Nylons, and after a lot of, ‘Oh these look nice,’ from my mother and God knows how many sulky replies from a twelve year old me, we settled on a pair of pale blue jim jams. Pale blue, with a navy blue collar, and made of nylon. 100% nylon. I couldn’t go past anything electrical, or walk quickly on carpet without building up enough static to power a light bulb and my hair in a constant state of shock. I could get up from the settee and take the cushions with me. This only added to my awkwardness. I must have been a joy to live with. 

The best thing about the trip was that I had time to myself with my mum, something I loved, but would never admit to. We went for fish and chips, walked along the prom fighting the wind, the Northwest gales, not my mothers, and spent as long as we could in the amusement arcade. This was a time before the likes of Pacman and Space Invaders and the ability to shoot as many zombies as you can for a pound, and by today’s standards probably very boring too, but one machine held our attention. ‘The Penny Falls’, simple, slow, but brightly lit, we’d stand for what seemed like an eternity, putting a tuppence, ( that’s inflation for you) in the slot, watching it travel down the slide and onto a pile of other hopeful two penny pieces to then wait for the big, slow mechanical platform to move ever nearer to them in the hope of knocking the entire pile off the edge and into the dispenser for your collection. Not the quickest or most successful way to win your fortune, and thinking of it now we must have looked like two country bumpkins on their first day in the big city, but there we stood in anticipation and hope, gazing at the pennies:

‘That one’s going to go soon.’

‘Try the other side.’

‘Got it.’

We’d make as much celebration as our timid selves would allow as a whole 10p’s worth of pennies fell off the edge, only to be returned again as quickly as we could.

This was exciting, this was fun, this was…heaven.

A whole twenty pence could last forever, well, until home time any way, and then back on the bus. 

By this time my two sisters had gone to college in Liverpool and my brother was working for the Co-Op. Home was quieter, colder, not the hive of activity it once was, and, apart from my dad, there wasn’t anyone to tell our tales of a great day out to when we got back. Just ourselves, in front of the telly, over an Ovaltine. 

About once a week we’d get a call from my sisters, my mum would do most of the talking, how were they, were they eating, keep away from boys, that kind of thing, and I’d stand next to her awaiting my turn, always so much to say to them, couldn’t wait to tell them about my week, find out when they were coming home, but, as usual as the time came all I could do was grunt a reply to my sisters questions:

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s alright, yeah. Bye then.’ I don’t know why we made such a fuss of a phone call each week as they came home most weekends, but Liverpool is a long way from Preston, at least an hour in the car. 

It was getting near Christmas and nearer to the date when I was again going to be admitted to hospital, hopefully this time to have my operation. One evening my sister Aron calls, mum answers and talks for awhile then passes the ‘phone to me, I grunt the usual replies to the usual questions, then my sister says, ‘put your mum back on, I need to ask her something’, I do, and after a couple of words my mum turns to me still standing there in a cold hallway in my nylon pyjamas, hair on end, crackling away like a bad AM radio, and she say’s, ‘Go into the living room, this is private.’

I go back in, sit on the settee, try and peel the cushion off me without getting frazzled to death, and wonder what they’re talking about. I hope it’s nothing bad.

Mum comes back into the room.

‘What were you talking about?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ she says. Immediately I think the worst. 

It’s a few days before Christmas Eve. My sister Grainne’s home from college for the holidays, she loves being back, my brother Sean’s working in Chorley and only gets home late, and my sister Aron is still in Liverpool. That evening she calls.

‘Put your mum on the ‘phone’, she says. I do.

I stand next to my mum, I’m the worlds worst eavesdropper. My mum’s answering with ‘yes’s’ and ‘no’s. Something’s up. Then she says, ‘Your sister wants to talk to you again.’

‘Hello.’ I say. Always one with sparkling repartee, me. ‘When are you coming home?’


‘How soon?’

‘Couple of days. Listen, I’ve got you a Christmas present…’

‘What is it?’ (Please say Donna Summer’s new album.)

‘I’m  not telling you, but you’ll get it Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, all right?’

‘Yeah, allright. You are coming home though aren’t you?’

‘’Cause I am. Put your mum back on.’ 

Christmas Eve. It’s getting later and later. It’s dark now, mum’s delaying putting out the tea, and my sisters still not home, and I’m starting to worry. Well, I’m starting to worry I’m not getting a prezzie. By now my mum’s sick of my endless mantra of ‘When’s she coming home?’ The kitchen windows are steamed up from cooking, it’s dark outside, and someone taps on the back door. My mum opens it to a swirl of steam and cold air. It’s my sister Aron. She steps inside, cold and smiling, and holding a bundle in her arms. She turns to me.

‘All right Our kid,’ she says, she’s a fully fledged scouser these days. ‘Merry Christmas.’

She opens her coat, and there’s the smallest puppy I’ve ever seen, shivering from cold and nerves.

‘His names Fonz.’ She says.


‘Yeah.’ And he’s yours.’

‘Mine?’ I look at my mum who’s busying herself at the sink. ‘I’ve got a dog, Mum.’

‘I know,’ says my mum. I’m not sure if she’s happy or not.

‘He’s a Collie cross. From Bootle. My friends dog had a litter, and he was the runt. He’s a gammy leg, I think he’s deaf in one ear, and one of his eyes isn’t too good. But he’s lovely,’ Says my sister. ‘They were going to throw him in the Mersey. I’ve carried him all the way home’ 

She hands him over to me. I look at him. He’s like a baby womble, so small and shaky, and warm. And a bit wet. 

‘He might have a weak bladder as well,’ she says. 

Might? That was a little understatement. 

He yawns, a little row of white pointed teeth, a tiny yelp. We look at each other. He’s beautiful. 

And he’s all mine. 

( To be continued….)











Wednesday, 4 April 2012

‘Mahler’s 5th Symphony’, and why I don’t need to hear it for a while.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, can’t quite remember, we got a new deputy Headmistress at our school. Mrs. Holden was her name. Most of the time she was stern, devoid of all humour, the rest of the time she was humourless and rather stern. In her eyes I could do no right, exceptionally dim, and a bleak future ahead of me. She shouted at me more times than any other teacher had. To her my work was sloppy, unimaginative and dull. Whereas the year before my teacher, Mrs. Jenkinson, had loved my writing and poetry and made me read in front of the class whatever I had written that week, Mrs. Holden wouldn’t even consider me inflicting the class on my immature drivel. Everything I presented to her was received with a heavy sigh of, ‘what new rubbish is this now?’ I could go on about the absolute year of hell I had with her, never any praise, only criticism, I’d rather save that for now. But, even after all that, I liked her.

I liked her because on Thursdays, which has always been one of my favourite days of the week, don’t know why, (Wooden Tops, Top of the Pops, Music and Movement, all on a Thursday, could be the reason, I’ll get back to the story), on a Thursday we had The Classical Music Club. It was all Mrs. Holden’s idea to bring some culture into our sad little lives. And my friends went to it, so I naturally tagged along.

Every week she would turn up with her ‘portable record player in the shape of a suitcase’, and a small selection of records of her choice, and the even smaller group of us crawly bum lick kids would turn up to be enlightened. I say ‘crawly bum lick’ because, to be honest, what kid wants to give up his playtime of running round shooting Germans once a week to listen to classical music unless it’s to creep to the teacher. I digress. As it was, instead of shooting Germans, we were listening to them.

Out of the small tinny speakers we listened to Beethoven, Bach, one and two, Brahms, Bruckner, Händel, Haydn, Mahler and the rest. Sometimes a bit of Offenbach, but usually the greats. She always gave us a brief history of the piece then tell us to close our eyes and try and imagine the scene that was going on, what the music was saying. Needless to say, the pictures I conjured up were nothing if not a bit drab. The music didn’t really grab me, unless it was a piece I knew like Tchaikovsky, or Canteloube’s ‘Bailero’ (that was used on the old Enva Cream adverts. I think. Or was it for Camay? Anyway..). Then one week she brought in a piece of music that changed my life completely. I can still remember that moment, I can almost smell the hall we were sat in, the reek of school dinners, the air thick with boredom and fear. I closed my eyes, and for the first time in my life I heard ‘Jupiter’ by Holst in its entirety. Immediately I was swept away. What was this sound? This fanfare? It was exciting, rushing speeding, the strings a flurry waking you up, the brass imposing and important. It wasn’t Classical, it wasn’t high brow and boring. It was captivating. It was, and I can only describe it like this from how I felt then and now when I hear it, and I do apologise if I offend, but to me it was the music for the Northern and the Working Class. But mainly for the Northern Working Class.

It wasn’t romantic or melancholic, it didn’t make me want to cry or reminisce about an old Battle, it was flying over the roof tops of the terrace houses round St. Pauls Road where I was born. It was the high chimneys at Horrocks up New Hall lane, the smell of the hot malt, and truck fumes from the factory on St. Georges Rd. It was the great lake Windermere, the powerful jutting hills of Cumberland, it was cold, bleak, black and white, dirty and smoke filled, everything foggy and damp, it was Tom Finney scoring the winning goal for Preston North End at the World Cup, it was a celebration of all this and more.

It became the first LP I bought, closely followed by Beethoven’s ‘Emperors Concerto’, and the start of a love affair and appreciation of all things in the classical music world.

Moving on through the years, and one or two things have been a constant. I’ll always read and collect comics, I’ll always support the mighty North End, I’ll always find Bob Hoskins the sexiest thing on two legs, and my love, and collection, of classical music will grow and grow.

Now, I’m not very high brow, and to be honest, the majority of my classical collection has been stuck on the front of certain magazines, or, as with some CD’s, actually been inside a cereal box. I’ve never been to the Proms, though each year I say I’ll go, and I can sit listening to Radio 3 all day without hearing a piece I actually know. But there is nothing like the thrill of hearing that ‘new piece’, discovering that arrangement (the vocal arrangement of Barber’s Adagio is even more haunting and beautiful than the actual symphonic version.), of coming home with my own shop bought copy of Gorecki’s Symphony No.3, and sitting there listening to every note uninterrupted by news or adverts, or worse still, bad reception. To quote Peter Gabriel in his Genesis days; ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know.’

Like me, you’re probably thinking, ‘where is this leading?’ Well, Dear reader, I haven’t a clue. But I’m sure we’ll get there.

I’ve been away recently, a family matter. My partner’s father, Trevor, died at the age of 90 just a few weeks ago. I’ve mentioned this in the previous Blog, but don’t worry, it’s not a repeat.

Trevor had many loves in his life. He’d been a pilot and navigator in the RAF during the Second World War, flying his beloved Mosquito’s. He built and collected an entire room of Airfix models, nearly all planes, nearly all Mosquito’s. He’d played, coached and watched his beloved Rugby (Wales, of course), right up until the end. But his main love was his Classical Music, and we’d happily talk for hours about different pieces, what they meant to us, why we liked them. His collection, like mine, was a mish mash of Classic FM CD’s, box sets, presents, free with newspapers, but all loved and appreciated, it’s the music not how it’s packaged or acquired that matters.

He’d stated that for his funeral he wanted two pieces of music, Parry’s version of ‘Jerusalem’, the school song from when he was a Headmaster, and Mahler’s 5th Symphony.

And so we sat, my partner and I, going through Trevor’s collection to find the right version, the right length, right arrangement. We listened to it going into the Chapel, coming out of the Chapel, a week later we did the same at the Crematorium, we came home, sat with a cup of tea, put on the radio, and, as happens in these occasions, Mahler’s 5th was playing.

My partner looked at me, put on his bravest smile and said; ‘If you don’t mind, I don’t think we need to listen to this for a while.’

There are certain pieces of music I can’t listen to anymore because of the memories they conjure up. Whitney’s ‘I will always love you’ was played at my sister’s funeral, Dionne Warwick’s ‘Valley of the Dolls’ always reminds me of my Mum. I hope that in the not too distant future I can listen to Mahler again without thinking of a Co-Op Funeral Home, but instead think of Trevor. My partner’s father, and my very good friend.

Time flies whether you're having fun, or not.

It's April already.How did that happen?

When I started this Blog I thought I could easily post something witty and inciteful at least once a week. I've just noticed the date of my last post, 9th February, that's like, over a month ago. What have I been doing?

Well, infairness, not a lot. I'm a 'resting' actor, the thought that an actor could do anything less energetic than actually acting is saying something. Why do they call it 'resting'? I've never been so stressed out in years. The fear has started creeping in, 'will I work again?', 'what if every casting director has forgotten about me?', 'where's my dressing rooom?', 'Did I piss someone off?' and worst of all, 'How long until I have to take up a bar job and and go through all the questions of: 'Well, if you're an actor, what are you doing behind a bar?' I'm sure it'll all come out in the wash. That reminds me, need to do laundry.

Recently, and after a short illness, my partners father died. We knew it was inevitable. He was 90 years old, and hadn't been in great health for a few years, but still, when the end came it came as a shock, and before you know it three weeks in Wales, one Church service, home made buffet, one cremation, endless visitors and well wishers later, we managed to get back home.

We've hardly had time to open the post and now it's a return journey to Wales, and all the sifting, clearing, keeping, throwing, cleaning begins. Added to that a trip to my ancestral home in Preston to see my father  who's not been in the greatest health this year, and hopefully by May we might be able to sit with our feet up and get on with our lives.

'Resting Actor?' My Arse.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

From that to this.

So, apart from the odd panto I'd written for The Preston Deaf Society (Long story. I used to be their DJ on a Saturday Night. Honestly, no jokes I was their DJ, tough crowd too. But that's for another time.) and the odd script adjustment for the Preston Drama Club Panto, which in turn lead to me writing 'Hansel and Gretel' for them, the only proper writing I'd done was the aforementioned 'Thank You' for the One Act Festival. I'd always loved writing, never a great reader, I tend to prefer comics and magazines to actual books, but I never thought I was much good at it. This pattern of  'wasn't very good at it' has run through my life from start to, well, I suppose one day, finish.

Anyway, without going over old ground, or boring the readers that know me and my family well, I came to write a full length play.

It had started life as a short One Act, I had the opening speech, the final speech, and not very much inbetween. It was called, originally 'The Lark Ascending' and was loosely based on my two lovely sisters.
Anyway, I never finished the One Act, I put it away, and with going off to Drama School I pretty much forgot about it. Although, it was always in the back of my mind to finish it.

Skip forward a couple of years. 2003 to be exact. I'm sat in Carluccios in Ealing with my bezzy Girlfriend Amanda Daniels (Girlfriend as in friend who's a girl, not, well, you get the picture.) I was on tour with 'Office Suite' and Amanda was looking for some gritty play about women, for women, written by gritty women, that she could produce and be in. So, I tell her about my play, about it being about my sisters, about the fact I'd written, oh, a couple of pages, and before I knew it I was telling Amanda everything, what it was like, what we were like, a family growing up, and something I said, recalling how my sister Aron had died of cancer and before that  how her and my other sister Grainne had stopped talking to each other when my mother died, and how the illness had brought them back together again, and I burst into tears and made a dash for Carluccios toilets.
When I came back, after composing myself and being very apologetic, Amanda asked me to write it all down, turn it into a play and she'd produce it.

As I've said before, many times, I'm not the best writer, or actor come to think of it, but I've been very fortunate in having supportive family and friends. How many unknown writers do you know have a friend who is willing to part with a lot of time and money to put on something that may crash and burn. Amanda is one such friend.

Anyway, I went back on tour, and started thinking more about the play, what I could write, what it would be like, just bits and pieces, and when I had a break from the tour I sat down and started writing. The Big Bear that is my other half kept me topped up with cups of tea, sandwiches, gallons of Jack Daniels and Coke, occaissionally stopping to pass me a hanky when I burst into tears again and again over another painful memory, until, finally, I had a beginning, and an ending, still nothing for the middle though.
I sent what I had to Amanda, who immediately said she wanted to do it. Result.

There was one hurdle I had to get over though, if you want to call my sister Grainne a hurdle that is.
I found I'd written something very raw, personal and painful. A no holds barred account of us as a family growing up. I didn't spare any blushes, and, I suppose in a pig headed way,  I'd written something that could be rather offensive and embarrassing for some members of my family. I didn't want to hurt anybody, that wasn't the exercise, but I found I couldn't write it any other way. So, I grabbed the bull by the balls and sent a copy to my sister. If she didn't like it, or thought that it might be a little too much for the family to take, then that would be it, I'd scrap it and work on something else, not that I had any ideas as what to write instead.

Thankfully Grainne loved it, in fact she encouraged me to go even darker, to make it less sugar coated.
So I did.

In the meantime, Amanda had shown my writing to Sonia Fraser, a director and tutor from our old drama school. She hadn't told Sonia I'd written it, she just said it was a new female writer. Apparently Sonia's words were, 'Whoever she is Darling, snap her up immediately.'

And so, what was originally 'The Lark Ascending' became 'Third Finger, Left Hand.' With Amanda and Sonia's hard work it was workshopped (Car maintenance!) at Theatre Royal York, before moving to The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh for the Festival. Amanda played 'Grace', Angela Clerkin played 'Niamh', Sonia directed, and I spent the summer in Lincolns Inn Fields dressed as various women in 'Comedy of Errors.'

I'm proud of 'Third Finger.' I can't get through it without crying, then again, neither can an audience.
The story of losing someone to cancer is universal, but there was something about the play, the relationship of the sisters, my sisters, their growing apart, and eventual coming together for a final time, that hit home with a lot of people.

Everyday, either in Edinburgh, or when the play moved back to York and then The New End in Hampstead, Amanda would ring and tell me of the effect it was having. People refusing to move from the auditorium until they could speak to her and Angela. People who had similar stories themselves, or feelings that they'd surpressed for so long, suddenly now having the chance to let those feelings, memories, pain, bubble up and burst out.

One particular woman, a tourist from America,who saw it in Edinburgh stopped Amanda afterwards to thank her and to explain that, like the sisters in the play, like my sisters in life, she had had a falling out with hers. Their relationship was so bad that when she heard that her sister too was dying from cancer she thought, so what, too late, she wasn't going to make peace with her. After seeing the play, she told Amanda that she was cutting her holiday short. She was going home to be with her sister for her final days.
Still brings a lump to my throat that.

I've rambled on too long, and you've probably forgotten what was at the beginning of this story or why I'm even telling it. I'm currently at the moment trying to get the play revived and performed again, it's a story I think should be heard.

In short, the play is told by the two sisters who play every part, switching characters, making us laugh, and, at certain points, cry. It's not Steel Magnolias, but it's good.

Anyway, here's one of my favourite bits. It's Grace talking about her mother. And just incase you're wondering why I haven't written a play about my brother, well, you'll have to wait a little longer for that one.

Thank you for reading.

I've been a little lazy.

I've been a little lazy recently, well, lazy and I haven't been in the mood for writing. But today, mainly due to a long conversation with my sister, and because I'm finally in the mood to write, I thought it was time to put something on here. So here it is.

This piece comes from the first short play I ever wrote for the 1999 One Act Festival at Preston Playhouse. It was devised and written for the young, and not so young, actors from my workshops (that term still makes me think of car maintenance). The play was called 'Thank You' and was a brief expose' of what I'd been through in various auditions I'd attended over the years and failed miserably. And so, probably out of sheer frustartion, and partly to give my actors something to be in, I sat down and wrote a simple little play about drama school auditions.
The main part of the play was about a group of would be actors sat in a room waiting for their turn to prove their worth infront of a faceless voice only director. The rest was individual audition speeches from other characters.

This piece was performed by me. I wasn't going to give this to just anyone you know.

FIRST VOICE: (In the style of Alan Bennett.)

She said, “What are the choices again?”

I said, “A Chorley cake, a Bee Sting, a snack pack of Bourbons, or a Battenburg that’s seen better days.”

She said, “I can’t decide.”

I said, “You’ll have to. Woman at the counter doesn’t want a queue forming. Not on a Wednesday.”

She said, “What are the choices again?”

I said, “A Chorley Cake, a Bee Sting, a snack pack of Bourbons, or a Battenburg that’s seen better days.”

She said, “I’ll have a Goosnargh.”

I said, “They don’t do Goosnarghs!”

She said, “They do. I saw one on the way t’table.”

I said, “It wasn’t a Goosnargh, it was a very slender Eccles cake. Besides,” I said, “You can’t eat Goosnarghs. The caraway seeds’ll get stuck under your plate.”

She said, “Not if I dunk ‘em and suck ‘em.”

I Said, “Mother, you can’t do that. Not when there’s mixed clientele in a tea room.” Well, you can’t can you. They only come in on a Wednesday to check that they’re not in the obituary, and to swap copies of ‘The People’s Friend.’ They don’t want to see someone sucking on a Goosnargh.

Anyway, by the time she’s decided, it’s too late for cake, and when we get home, we’ve missed ‘Fifteen to one’ and Carol Voorderman’s onto her second numbers game. As I make a move for the kitchen she says, “Aren’t you going to wait for the Conundrum?”

I said, “You’re a bloody conundrum.”

She said, “ You’ll miss Richard Whiteley’s blazer.”

I said, “Don’t worry. He’ll wear it again. I’ll just fix you a Weetabix and then I’ll change your bag.”

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Could just be the Weather.

Every now and again, I sit myself down and give myself a good talking to, or burden the dog with it. He’s a good listener, though he does have a tendency of wandering off in the middle of the conversation leaving me to, well, talk to myself.

Todays’ sitting down to talk to myself topic was ‘work’ and how I got to where I am now, which sometimes doesn’t feel all that far from when I started.  Over the years I’ve done various jobs, window cleaner, though I’m not very good at heights, Postman, I’m not very good at getting up early, especially in winter. I’ve been a Civil Servant, I was good at being Civil, it was the Servant bit I didn’t get. Good job, lovely people to work with, but my heart wasn’t in it. Sheet metal worker, bloody dangerous job that. Well it was when I did it. Barman. I liked that, have to say.

Finally, after putting it off and not thinking I was good enough, let’s face it, I wasn’t good at any of the jobs I did, apart from Barman, really did enjoy it, I bit the bullet and became an actor. A professional actor at that. One that gets paid.

It wasn’t easy at first, and financially it was bloody stupid. But I did it.

I say, ‘I did it’. With a lot of help and support from family and friends I was lucky enough to be allowed to do it.

So, at the age of 35, I went to spend 10 months training at DSL, Drama Studio London.

Actually, before we get to that bit, how about I go back a few years to explain why I wanted to be an actor.

In 1969, (or was it 1970? Let’s go with ’69. Sounds a bit more retro.), I was taken to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at the Preston Playhouse, home of Preston Drama Club.

My Dad was playing the part of the Wizard, and for the weeks leading up to it we’d hear him go through his lines and songs, but best of all we got to see him use the Wizards magic wand. A simple device, a roll of thin metal that at the touch of a button expanded into a wand, then took ages to fold it back up again. I found this out one day when I was playing with it, wasn’t supposed to be, but who can resist a magic wand. I couldn’t.

And so, for the first time in my life I saw a real live stage show. A real land, were people not only spoke but sang, with music. They lived in a beautiful bright yellow and green land. They sparkled and shone, they danced and sang and no one told them to be quiet. Who were these wonderful people and how could I go and live with them in this wonderful land?

After the show we went back to see my Dad who took us all back stage. The land was gone. Folded up and put away. How could that be? My dad tried to explain, but I didn’t listen. Obviously they’d all been kidnapped, or moved. Yeah, that’s it, they moved. All these real people from Oz moved. I can sleep better now knowing that.

Anywho, back to my story. From that moment on I knew what I wanted to be. An Actor, in capital letters. My first appearance was in 1972 for the Preston Guild. I played a goose boy. Didn’t have any geese though, so I guess I was just ‘Boy’.

I’ll be writing more about that nearer the time of this years’ Preston Guild. Every 20 years you know. All I’ll say is, I loved every minute of it, which spurred me on. I was going to be an actor. Now, all I had to do was wait until someone discovered me.

Only one draw back. Painfully shy when it came to standing up in front of people. This was going to take me longer than I thought.

When I was 19 I went to audition for the mighty RADA. I learnt two speeches, borrowed my best mate Rolfs’ Late Uncles suit, got my ticket for the train, and off I went to be discovered.

I came home that day with the words of one of the Tutors ringing in my ear. ‘Why don’t you try Amateur Dramatics Dear, you might have a good career there.’

And so I did, six years after being rejected by RADA that is. I’d given up any thought of acting, I was going to be a window cleaner, or Postman, or both, for the rest of my life. But I still talked about acting, and secretly carried that torch for it.

A friend of mine had joined Preston Drama Club, for easier purposes we’ll call it P.D.C. from now on, and asked if I’d meet him after his audition, and could I wait in the theatre. So I did. I didn’t know at the time that my friends had actually conned me into going to try and get me to join.

The play was ‘The Matchmaker’, the director was Stella Judson. I sat in the auditorium smugly watching these amateurs who obviously didn’t know the first thing about acting, bless them, but who was I to criticise them. Thinking back, I was a big headed, pig ignorant bugger at times. Nothing changes.

Stella then looked out into the auditorium and asked if I’d like to read. Laughingly I said no, I wasn’t into that kind of thing. Stella’s quite a persuasive Lady, and before I knew it I was on stage reading for the part of Barnaby Tucker. Which, I’m glad to say I got. My mate dropped out of the play a week later.

Jump forward nine years, I’ve been in over 90 plays, co-written a couple of Pantos, set up a theatre group, Navigation Theatre, with my friends Kate and Dave, and was now running workshops on a Monday night in teaching people all my techniques. As I say, big headed bugger. And it was because of the workshops that I applied to DSL. Basically, I’d run out of ideas, who the hell was I to think I could teach people to act, I needed help and quick. I’d read an adverstisement in The Stage for DSL and how they held a one day audition and workshop. Perfect, I thought, I’ll apply, I obviously wont get in, but I can nick their ideas, come back to Preston and the next few workshops are sorted.

 I got in. Still nicked their ideas for my next workshops though.

And so it began, my life as An Actor, in capitals.

I won’t bore you with my C.V., but I’ve been lucky, a lot luckier than some of the very talented people I trained with, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredible people and doing some quite diverse work, suprising myself sometimes. I’ve even written a play, a good one too.

I can’t say I’ve worked solidly, I haven’t, and that’s when the Pub calls out to me and off I go to work behind a bar until the next acting job comes along. Thankfully I’ve not had to do that for over four years now, but something tells me I may have to brush up my beer pulling skills soon.

Being an Actor is the best job in the world, for me anyway, but it’s not the most secure profession, though you could probably say that about a lot of professions these days. And there are times when the work dries up, and I sit down and have a good talk to myself. Do I continue trying to make it, going through those auditions, learning a script or song in an afternoon, having to put yourself through the feeling of rejection again and again, having to do what is required for the job. There comes a point when you’ve had to walk around a casting room in nothing but a thong listening to people say ‘Is he fat enough?’ or worse still ‘Can you turn around and really bend over in front of us as if you’re picking something up?’ (honestly, this did happen to me), that you think, ‘Can I do this anymore?

Then there’s the writing. I do enjoy it, not made any money from it, probably never will, and I can go through periods of not being able to write anything. I still write though.

I was in the Civil Service for ten years before I decided to leave. I’ve been acting for eleven years now.

Could be time to rethink the career, try and push myself a little harder, take some classes, branch out a little more, take a risk.

Could be time to have a complete change, do something new, or old, I’ve said I like being a Barman.

Could be time to move, get out of London, live somewhere else, do something else.

Could just be the weather.

Monday, 9 January 2012

A Dog Lamp is a Boys Best Friend.

It’s a long one this, you’d better put the kettle on and make a cup of tea.

A funny thing happened on Saturday. I don’t know what it was, maybe watching repeats on BBC2 of my favourite comedies from when I was a child, or the compilations of Top of the Pops we followed that with, or maybe the Desperados beer with tequila chasers, but something in my memory was triggered, and suddenly thoughts, songs, images from being a kid came flooding back like a cold water tap that’s been turned on full in the sink, the water splashing and hitting you so quickly that you can’t turn it off without getting thoroughly soaked. I picked up a pen and writing pad, always good to have them close to hand on nights like this, and I started writing, furiously, words, half sentences, names, rewriting again if I couldn’t read what I’d just put, arrows and lines, ‘put this here, move this bit, remember this bit, it’s important.’

I finished writing, tore the pages out of the pad, folded them up, put them in my wallet, and set the alarm on my ‘phone to remind me to read them. Always good to leave yourself an aid memoir, I usually do this kind of writing either late at night or on the hoof, and if I don’t remind myself then I can have reams and reams of jottings that just gather dust on the shelf and don’t make sense..

9 years old, 1973. Princess Anne’s getting married in the afternoon, the same day as Prince Charles’ Birthday. And mine. A day off school, on my Birthday. How cool is that? Very. But not as cool as the transistor radio my Mum and Dad had got me. My own radio. With an earpiece. Finally, I can listen to Radio Luxemburg at night without anyone knowing. Apart from my brother that is. We shared a room, and he’d had a radio for a good few years. In fact all four of us Canavan kids now had radios, all the same make, Murphy, different colours but all tuned to the same stations. And all with the same earpieces, tinny, mono, badly fitting so they fell out when you walked, moved, or breathed a bit too heavy.

Where was I? Ah yes.

I can’t begin to tell you the freedom I thought I would have now. My radio, goes wherever I go. My stations. Radio One during the day until Newsbeat. Then Luxemburg in bed at night, loving the music, first time I ever heard Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ was on the Dave Lee Travis show, fading in and out. But I never understood the adverts. What was a tampon anyway? I’m nine, I don’t need them. (Actually, I knew what they were, but not quite what they were for. My brother Sean and I had found my sister Aron’s supply on top of her wardrobe. A quick explanation from Sean as to what they were for, still didn’t understand, then, time to fill up the sink in the bathroom, unwrap them and throw them in the water. One of our many Science experiments. Blimey they grow to a big size. You wouldn’t want to use them if you had a nose bleed.)

That was a long time to be in brackets.

As with all big working class families there is a tradition of passing things down, whether it’s clothes, me and our Sean had to wear pink corduroy jeans for years thanks to this rule and my sisters growing out of them, but also the passing down of obligations. After 5 minutes of unwrapping my present and trying it out, my brother took his radio down from on top of the fridge, where my sister Grainnes’ radio had sat before it, and before that my sister Arons’, and replaced it with mine. And there it stayed, until I’d grown the added height to reach up and take the bloody thing down at night.

Jump forward a year. 1974, my birthday, a Thursday in November.

The radio is still the only source of music in the kitchen, or front room if the heating’s on and we can sit in there without losing the feeling in your hands. I’ve had a summer of playing out side and it being my companion, all day long. Or until the batteries ran out. And now it’s Autumn and my Birthday.

Down at the Shops at Sharoe Green there was a Chemist and his wife. He dispensed the medicine, his wife sold the perfumes, toys and Dr.Whites, which according to my Mother was a big box of cotton wool and no I couldn’t have any to play with and could I stop asking her what the cotton wool was for, go and listen to your radio. There’s a theme here, but I don’t know what.

In the window of the shop, for sale, le’ts say 50p, which was a lot, was a lamp. A battery operated bedside lamp in the shape of a dogs’ head, Bloodhound, who was wearing a night cap. The dog was pink and brown, the nightcap green. I had no idea what it would look like when lit up, but it must be lovely. It looks lovely. Well, I didn’t need to wait long to find out. My sister Grainne bought it me for my Birthday.

Now, you’re probably thinking, 10 years old and he gets a night light. Strange boy. Or you’re thinking, ‘how long have I been reading this and when is he getting to the point?’ Nearly there, Dear reader.

That night, I got in bed and we put on the Doggy light, as it was now affectionately called, and then put out the big light.

I can’t remember seeing anything so beautiful, this lovely warm, orangey and green glow came from it, the dogs face lit up, not enough to light the whole room, but enough to light the side of my bed. And there it sat, next to my radio that I could now reach, next to my bed, on top of the Tea Chest that I had as a bed side table (it had sharp metal edges, and I was forever catching my head on it when I rolled over at night.).

Every time I hear the song ‘Killer Queen’, the clicking fingers, the ‘She keeps the Moet Chandon in a pretty cabinet,’ the vamping piano, I always think of that doggy lamp. November 1974 and that song was in the charts and you could guarantee that it would be played at some stage of the evening on the radio. And I’d lie in bed, look at the lamp, listen to Freddie singing. Bliss.

I’ve never liked the dark, complete darkness that is. I don’t know if it’s my claustrophobia, or the solitude of it, or the fact that when I was little the curtains at night used to talk to me. Long story for another time. But with this light, this glowing doggy, there was none of that. I felt safe and loved. And for any child at any age, feeling safe and loved is the best thing in the world.

And for some reason on Saturday night, suddenly, and only for a short while, that’s how I felt. Ten years old. Safe. And loved.