Sunday, 19 April 2015

Walk On Amy

‘I mean, whatever way you look at this you’re a prick.’

Amy begrudgingly walks over the bridge towards the ornate gates, on through the cemetery until she’s soon at the far north end leaving under the cherubim splodged arch, out on to a busy road whilst turning left towards a junction, she tugs her hair. ‘You’re such a prick’, she says breathless like she doesn’t really mean it. Above is the clearest blue sky she has seen in years, or taken note of - you see, only on an unplanned day like this would Amy have time to notice such things; usually she’s on her phone putting filter upon filter over her Instagram shots or perusing the maps to get somewhere quicker. Today she had no where to be. She wished at the start of the realisation process that someone would call, anybody with a need for her to be somewhere, anywhere. Alas, nobody called and her phone was now dead without battery. Her little flat soles ached from the standing, then the pacing, and the prolonged walking that followed. She thought, ‘I might as well enjoy the day if I have it to myself’ and set off in any old direction reaching a park, in the end. Now mid park she sees a bench and decides to have a rest.

‘When will you be back?’
‘I’ll be back on Saturday by 14:00’
‘Looking forward to seeing your pretty face’
‘[insert blush emoticon]’

There are some ducks lying on the grass, a whole group of them with one or two waggling their tails. The pond water looks prettier than she expects it to because a park in the city is probably full of tramps or lager cans they leave behind, but today it was particularly beautiful, shimmering with the strokes of the wind. Taking out her phone she kisses it for luck but no signs of revival, then one duck makes a splash. He had said 14:00. Stretching her toes in to a point and then back again, Amy thought to herself that once she did ballet and later she had aspirations of being a backing dancer for R&B music videos. Where could she be if Amy had pursued these dreams? Where could he be? Biting her lip, we know what she’s thinking, but why would he do that? 

‘Prick’, she says at herself. The reason her phone’s dead is because she had been calling his number every half hour after he was late by two hours, then every five minutes after the third hour. There was probably never an intention for him to show up, but she mistook his positive messaging as a promise to meet. He never showed. The wind blew and her skin prickled. Earlier in the morning Amy had moisturised her skin so that it would be smooth to the touch if he ever touched her, just in case he did - you see she wanted to be ready, with smooth skin. She’d also painted her nails a vermillion and applied some hair serum to make her locks smell nice as well as bounce, but she only hoped and couldn’t be sure flirting would occur. She had thought it was a date but…

Big. Fat. Tears plop next to her hands that grip the bench oh so hard. She sobs but tries to stifle it and ends up snorting and then getting a bout of hiccups. The wind rushes past her rouged cheeks to evaporate off her rolling tears and to leave crusty salt marks by her ears. Poor Amy. Nothing would wish this upon her, particularly not the guy who’s really very fond of Amy but mistook Saturday for a Sunday. Tomorrow Patrick would turn up on the south side of the bridge at two o’clock precisely and wait and wait and wait.

"Ogichan, Grandad. Where Did He Go?" Produced by Eloise Stevens

My friend and radio producer, Eloise Stevens, took a blog entry of mine called The Funeral (Part 2) and made it come alive in this piece for radio. See more of her sensorial work here.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Evaporated Milk

Never really written on the back of a bus before. Legs swung sideways out in to the aisle, there’s nobody here, the top deck is mine, no need to worry. Why has evaporated milk become so much part of my waking life than before? Because on the boat we have a tiny fridge that is crammed full of grapes and orange juice and cheese, so, there’s not much room for milk and Mer doesn’t drink milk. When I have cups of tea on the boat I usually have the ginger one or the knettle and jasmine one but sometimes you just hanker for tea, right? Regular nice builder’s tea with sugar and milk and everything Good about hot beverages. But there's only this thing called evaporated milk on board and it comes in a tin. 

The first time I put some evaporated milk in my tea it tasted fine, creamy but fine. Not like a normal cuppa but it was like not so different, you know. A day went by, I went to work where also I had cups of tea in the office and coffee and nothing that unusual. Another day, in the afternoon I bought a salad and went to eat it on the deck, which is much like a sun porch or a patch of grass that somebody owns out front. I had my book on British Birds and I was checking out the birds, the only kinds really are the coot and moorehen, both of which are labelled “confusion species” of one another; the coot is plumper and larger than the moorhen with a bright white stripe down the middle of its face, and they make a racket with their whirring click click clack clack noises. The tea I had on deck then tasted a bit odd but then I couldn’t remember how the first evaporated milk cup of tea had tasted, so I started to doubt whether the tea had ever tasted normal so I just drank it in sips and left the rest.

When Mer came home to the boat on my lazy Saturday afternoon which had been provoked by a great hangover incurred after Alex’s birthday, I offered to make her a cup of tea.

’Sure. I’ll have the knettle one! No - actually yes… no, I’ll try the melon and raspberry one.’ 

I boil the kettle and wait, tapping on the side of my white porcelain mug. I ask, ‘Mer can I have some of your evaporated milk?’

‘Sure you can but just check it hasn’t gone off.’ 

‘How do I check that?’ 

‘Well I’d pour it out somewhere and have a look.’ 

So I reach for a utensil and pour this gloopy substance on to the face of a spoon and it slides in to the shape of a white chocolate button but glossy. 

‘I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like though’ I say in anticipation for some big reveal by the evaporated milk, but it gives me nothing. Mer comes over to have a look too. 

‘Maybe give it a taste?’  

So I pop the spoon in my mouth and immediately have to spit the fucker out because it tastes sour and gross.

‘If it’s off spit it out!’ Mer desperately scrabbles to make some room for my spittle in the sink and then I have to spit it out.

The evaporated milk had definitely gone off so I would have thought I’d be scarred for life from that tin-held impostor, but then this morning I woke up quite early and had a freezing cold shower because I’d messed up the heater settings due to daylight savings time (the clock was wrong basically), and I needed a cup of tea. Like normal tea. So I boiled the kettle and put the tea bag in and pierced open the tin lid of this new evaporated milk and strangely enough, the tea tasted great. So, my overall feelings on evaporated milk are as yet undecided. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Boat Moves

After having washed my face, brushed my teeth, done a foot stretch and eaten some tomatoes I feel like I’m refreshed enough to write about the boat move.

Arriving back in London after some truly peaceful outings in the countryside; meeting big family etc. makes one feel distrustful and disorientated. The familiar hustle and bustle is still going on in the city (that you only left behind on the kind side of the bank holiday weekend) but you resent it upon return rather than be a part of it. You see people walking with smartphones out in front and you catch yourself being wistful when you know in an hour’s time you’ll be doing the same. I saw a muntjac in the country: a muntjac. Yes a creature that’s sort of an equine looking hare, like a horse crossed with a kangaroo, in fact a type of small indigenous deer with big hind legs. My first and only ever muntjac, what a good Easter. 

On Sunday, tired but diluted with adrenaline, myself and a good friend I’ve brought along to help board the boat. It’s “moving day” and when Eloise and I arrive at the sail boat Mer has already stripped her of all it’s upholstery and hanging water canisters, I presume to make it lighter inside and so that she can see better when steering. We jump on - but only after Mer has given us strict and rapid-fire instructions on what to do and when to do it and how she is now “The Captain”. I’m fine with calling her the captain, Eloise not so much, fair enough.

Off we go. The engine chugs and pumps out water from the side of the boat (so we don’t sink) and the back propeller which is hidden churns up the water behind us, some ducks look on unperturbed. Eloise jumps on and I too but then disaster, the barge moored in front of us becomes unhooked from the river bank and is now steadily sliding horizontally across the canal where we’re heading for a collision. ‘Oh crap! Oh shit!’ shouts Mer; and we her sea cats look about not sure of what the impending problem is but then realise soon enough, and both of us jump back on to the muddy tow path and pull some ropes to bring her back in. Phew. Close call. Soon after an old raggedy looking man with a grey matted beard trundles along towards the escaped barge and waves his arms at us, letting us know, ‘She’s come loose ‘as she? Will get’er out the way for yuhs.’

Back on board again after the false start and the boat moves along smoothly away from the tow path heading east. ‘Don’t lose the mooring pins!’ Mer shouts at me through an open window, ‘And tell me if water is still pumping out the side of the boat!’, I reply with a surprisingly shrill yes and look at Eloise who winks at me. Onwards. ‘Do you know where we’re going?’ asks my co-partner at the captain through the open window. She replies with a resounding no. 

The oddest things pass you by from a “cruiser on the London canal scene” perspective… The backs of disused industrial parks abundant and strewn with disorderly building materials, reminding me of that failed Ruin Lust exhibition at Tate Britain; the very butt-ends of railway stations, or maybe depots jutting out, who knows what; at one point we glide past the huge concrete slab of wall and wired fencing that is the back of Willesden Junction. And we arrive at destinations very quickly because the canal doesn’t follow any roads or tube lines, I guess roads and trains make up much of the London map(s) so canals take up whatever space’s left, and so the canal system joins up lots of points in London you wouldn’t expect in a more direct route. 

In no time at all we we’re at Kensal Green, and to our left lies a cemetery and to our right the grandiose skeleton structure of a gasworks. I notice later in the dead of night that you can hear gas - whirring - all the time if you listen. Mer decides this is a good spot to moor but unfortunately only after we’ve passed the single open mooring spot and so we have to hurriedly jump off the boat again, each time before a leap I swallow so that I concentrate and don’t wrongly step and fall in to dirty cold canal water, thus Eloise and me both jump off and fend the boat away from the bank so as not to crash her. And now we’re all ashore to see the tow path emblazoned with “No Mooring” signs, which before I’d have never noticed as a pedestrian. ‘Oh shit, we just passed that space didn’t I? Oh shit. I should have just parked there, dammit.’ At this point from the rear end of our parked boat looms into view a monster of a barge, in fact two barges strung alongside one another like the double barrel of a water pistol and it’s playing loud techno-house music. Two boaters wave at us clearly lovely happy people who are stoned. They offer us some advice saying we could turn the boat around and then get that space, us two Padwan crew members nod at the prospect and Mer looks determined, but before we go ahead and do this canal equivalent of a U-turn, ‘Do you three want a cuppa tea then?’ Asks the gangly gentleman over the now turned-down sound system, and we all say yes, so that’s that.

Whilst the party boat boils the kettle for some tea we’re tying ropes and untying ropes and in one instance Eloise falls on her arse thanks to the slippery mud and the tug of the boat on the ropes. To my surprise I’m the only one who doesn’t trip or fall or get entangled as Mer lands on her backside at a later point too. Note: I’m not gloating merely stating fact. We start turning the boat around slowly by hoisting ropes at different angles, followed by Mer jumping on board to steer and drive. Mid U-turn some old crooners start heading toward us in a pretentious looking barge, newly painted and decorated in brash colours with a wood stove that screams contempt at minimalism, and the guys slightly shake their heads at us and carry on barging through, literally, whilst Mer tries her best to turn the boat around, we manage fine and I eye up the bully-barge as it disappears from view. 

After moving the boat and mooring her in that single perfect space between the cemetery and the gasworks we’ve remembered the cuppa but when I go back in search for the party boat the crew have gone, sailed onward in their hazy cruise. 

That night I’m shattered and after some tea and reading, I listen to the eternal hum of the gasworks outside my window and try and plan a route in to work tomorrow via the tube map app on my phone. Good night.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Boat Days

I smell of sweet stale bananas. I can smell it in my hair. Tad self-conscious that I smell too sweet for my fellow tubers, but heck, more worryingly I could smell of damp and just not notice - this smell of artificial sweet covering up the odour of the natural banks of the canal. Actually, I hope I smell of biscuits, which most would agree is nicer than pondweed.

I live on a boat. Just moved in on Monday night, right after I did a show with my theatre troopers at the recently (half) burnt down Battersea Arts Centre; post-show I retreated to water with the mild feeling already that it had been an unusual day, but what’s usual these days?

The sail boat (not a barge) is a liveaboard that’s in a continuous state of ‘work in progress’. It floats nicely and comes with an interesting liveaboard ‘landlady’, but with us being on water I’ll just call her by her name.

‘What shall I call you?’

‘You can call me whatever you want, whatever’s easiest.’

‘OK. But I don’t know your name so that’s quite difficult.’

‘Oh. I haven’t even told you – it’s Merrill.’

‘Like the bank.’

‘No nothing like the bank – nothing like that – what bank? - friends call me all sorts of thing like Margaret or Merry or Lily…’

‘OK. So they call you by lots of names then. I’ll call you Mer if that’s alright?’


So at the moment Mer’s moored the boat next to a giant biscuit factory: McVities. It’s in northwest London in a place called Harlesden and the air surrounding the station is the smell of concentrated sweet. I can almost taste the dough kneaded in industry quantities, its constant stream of puffy air wafting over canal and pouring across the junction into the Underground station down the steps towards the commuters.

There are definitely worse things to smell of than biscuits and so I’m not complaining, they also make Hula Hoops there because I see the vans but I can’t smell the crisps so much. When I leave for work this morning Mer tells me we’ll move the boat this week.