S**t My Boyfriend Says – The Sitcom

There’s something I’ve been feeling a bit bad about. I think I may have turned my boyfriend into an imaginary character. I mean, he still exists as a real person – I know this because he is actually there when I wake up, unlike that sexy Napoleon I dream about sometimes. But I think he is also now a character in a sitcom I might write one day. A sort of heightened, nerdy version of his own self.

For some time now I have been jotting down his sayings. Every time he comes out with something funny or odd I write it down. I only first considered it might be a strange thing to do the other day when I paused him mid-flow like a DVD so I could jot down something he’d just said and then laughingly read old bits out to him like I was reading him extracts from a book I love: “My Dad and I picked up some budgerigars in that lay-by once.” And “How are you? How’s the dimple between your nose and your top lip? What’s that called – your fulcrum? How’s that?” And “I think I got caught speeding tonight. If I get three points on my license and a hundred quid fine I’ll probably take it out on you sexually.”

The funny thing is, he couldn’t even remember saying any of them, and there I was telling him he had definitely said them and qualifying why they were funny. I felt like I was the weirdo. Even though he had been the one to say: “The last thing you need when you’re doing your make-up is a Charles Manson lookalike flitting around your shoulder like a phantom.” And “Baby, we’re not going to fall out over the reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes, are we?” And “I’d never had a tomato til I was 19. Then I had a cherry tomato and was hooked.”

Most of the time I am able to jot it down subtly without him knowing, but every now and then I have to ask him to repeat what he’s just said, and let on that I want to steal it. “Capture its brilliance” is how I word it, but I think he knows me well enough to know my magpie brain is thieving. I can’t bring myself to ask if he minds just in case he says ‘yes’ and I have to stop.

I’d miss stuff like this:
“I don’t know too much about William II except he was killed in a forest by an arrow. But you’re not seriously telling me it was a hunting accident – ‘Oh. I’ve accidentally killed the King of England.’ – Suspect.” …Ten minutes later: “It couldn’t have been a hunting accident. It’s bullshit.”

I’d forget the throwaway lines: “I fancy some Danish prog rock. It’s not very chilled, so you better adjust your nutsack.”
And “If you ever want to break up with me, make me tea in this mug. Something about its ergonomics makes me violent.”
And (to a hole in the wall): “Sorry. For a moment I thought that was a mirror and I was invisible.”

I worry for our future. I can handle the guilt of stealing his essence. I can handle him thinking I’m weird for loving his weirdness. But what if I ever wrote something that was only good because his lines were in it? What if I made money out of him that should by rights be his? How would we sort that mess out?

Hmm. Maybe I should get him to sign something waiving his rights to his own words; blindside him with a nice dessert or something…

I certainly won’t make him tea in the wrong mug til I’ve got a whole series-worth out of him.

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Kirstie Allsopp & the Charity Shop Clock Tease

I knew I’d gone too far. But it was all Kirstie Allsopp’s fault. I had sworn at an old lady and it was all because of this wave of ‘let’s fill our houses with stuff that costs under a fiver and live like musty kings’ that’s taking the nation by mothbally storm.

Permit me to set the scene…
British Heart Foundation shop counter, afternoon.
Weather: UnBritishly Sunny.
Mood: Effervescent/Hungry.
Boobs: Sweaty.

I had been drawn in by two 1930s style champagne coupes that looked like they belonged in a Poirot villain’s hand. Reassuring myself it was still a valid means of payment, I counted out all the annoying coppers that were turning my purse into a deadly weapon. (I wouldn’t annoy the Tesco’s lot by doing this. They are very short-tempered and, on occasion, violent.)

What turned this otherwise simple transaction into a potential charity shop showdown was the clock. The 1960s clock that flirted with me using its off-beat tick and tarnished slattern sheen. It was shaped like the shard, if the shard had turned up for a fancy dress party as a sixties clock. It had an air of “I watched the entire Conservative cabinet of ’63 have it off with a stripper above a Soho pub and have maintained my silence until now.” That kind of clock. I paused a while, trying to decide if it was naff or not. It’s hard to tell good naff from bad naff and you don’t want to get it wrong in case Kirstie Allsopp gets cross with you.

The pricetag fluttered at me like a can-can dancer’s skirt. A quid. That cheap little clock teaser. I thwacked it on the counter. Kirstie would definitely snap this up, even if its frenetic tick-tock did bring on an epileptic fit. Another old lady sidled up and raised what was presumably once her eyebrows. She spoke to her colleague, who looked like a Valerie, like I didn’t exist.

“This isn’t a pound. It works for a start. Must’ve switched the labels round.”

I stared at her. I suppose I was waiting for her to look at me and realise her cynical summation of my character had been disgustingly unfair and to apologise. She stared stubbornly at the clock. ‘Valerie’ blinked at me.

“I’m sorry?” I said. (Feebly. I’m no granny-basher.)

“This isn’t the right tag. This has been swapped. This should be at least ten pounds.”

I stayed limp and silent, but my eyes, pools of fiery chaos, said this “Well, I didn’t write it, did I? Your colleague just saw me pick it up. There was no time for label fraud.”

“Oh.” (I actually said) “That… was what was on there.”

“Hmm.” She said, no doubt rendered silent by the scary lasers in my eyes.

Her suspicious arrogance and her refusal to look at me made me unleash the beast.

“DON’T YOU *insert F word* IMPLY I AM TRYING TO DIDDLE THE *insert F word* AILING HEARTS OF BRITAIN OUT OF NINE *insert F word* POXY POUNDS, YOU MISERABLE, MEAN OLD *C word shuffle* CRONE.”

Obviously, this torrent of profanity only took place in my head. What I actually said was
“Ok. I’ll leave it then. Thanks.” And left.

Why was this violent fracas all Kirstie Allsopp’s fault? Well, someone’s got to take the blame for OAP volunteers having to bolster themselves against hardened pricetag fiddlers (NOT THAT I AM ONE), and it might as well be the bird telling the nation that everything can be had for a song and that our homes should glint with the scrubbed up rubble of the Blitz.

Charities shops used to be a place you could sweep slowly around pondering life as you bonded with an old egg whisk. Now, thanks to these ‘I wear an old tea cosy on my head and gave birth to Barney in a refurbished skip’ programmes, if you snooze you lose. If you don’t whip around with ninja skills, you will get bustled into the Loser corner – into the basket of old brown bras and the 100 piece Country Cottage puzzle with 99 pieces missing. And if you even attempt to lay one finger on that old Singer sewing machine before the stay-at-home mum who’s channelling her disenchantment with life into quilting, you will end up with some broken Edwardian bellows up your arse. This shit is turning ugly. A child in a buggy wails on cue to optimise haggling conditions for its thrifty mother. Two pearl-wearing passive-aggressives tussle faux-laughingly over a suspected Clarice Cliff pepperpot. A strategically spilt takeaway de-caff mochaccino on the one remaining clean bit of carpet in Scope befuddles some poor volunteer who forgot to take her HRT into letting an early Turner go for a handful of change and half a rich tea biscuit. Soon there’ll be covert CCTV cameras in carriage clocks and mace stowed in old marjoram jars. Overnight security to man the midnight toot drop-offs. The washing machines out back that once produced that strange sicky-powder charity shop smell will be scrapped to make space for interrogation rooms. The old brown bras will be commandeered for assailing thieves; former cross-stitch champs will be strapped sobbing to chipped one-armed mannequins in the window til the police arrive. This isn’t ‘make do and mend’ anymore. This is ‘make my day, punk. This junk is so on trend.’

I can’t blame the oldies for all that. They’re old. They lived through the blitz the first time around. They had to eat powdered egg for fuck’s sake. They don’t give a shit about old shit anymore – they just want some flat-pack Ikea crap that smells new. Solid wood bores them. They want the uncertainty of MDF; it reminds them they’re alive.
No, I couldn’t flip them the bird – it wouldn’t be decent.
And they’d probably punch me.

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Success & Suicide – The Black Business of Acting

Since moustachioed Russian dude Constantin Stanislavski wrote in ‘An Actor Prepares’ of slathering chocolate on his face so that he could more fully embody the role of Othello, actors have felt encouraged to take themselves and their work very seriously. I mean, they must have taken it seriously before – you sort of have to be serious about the willing madness that is getting up and asking people to watch you do anything, let alone expecting them to think you’re good at it – but Stan really gave them the sort of visceral actor’s language to explain to non-actors how hard and serious it all is.

For most people with the burning ambition acting never amounts to more than an unpaid hobby, but for a ‘lucky’ few acting is a profession. It’s been a profession for thousands of years. The Greeks, if you embrace the more colourful imagery, had to shout to be heard above the din of mass vomiting and fornication in the amphitheatres, Shakespeare’s all-male players spittled their falsetto over the groundlings while pretending to be women, and Catherine Tate was paid to be allowed to pretend to be an actress – swaggering on stage with actual actor David Tennant and gurning over some of the most beautiful words ever written.

It’s a baffling business. But then so is oil, and the stock market, and prostitution. And teaching.

I very briefly wanted to go to drama school once. Until I studied Stanislavski and realised I had none of the crazy drive you need to be an actor. More than that, I just didn’t want to whack chocolate on my face and try to make words sound like they weren’t written first. I discovered I would much rather write the words. So I did a writing degree. I don’t quite know how I found my way back to making acting one of my professions, especially the one from which I’ve earned the most. It’s fun, but I don’t take it seriously. I think of the words first, and then the considerations of performance are a sort of by-product in bringing the words to life. Perhaps it’s merely a more healthy thing for my psychology to attach itself to than the full-blown desire to ‘act’ that a lot of my good actor friends have.

My reticence to connect with acting over writing – writing being something that can always be yours, and acting something that is only ever yours while someone is happy to give it to you – is partly why I was so moved by the death of the actor Paul Bhattacharjee recently. The fact he had likely committed suicide as a result of being made bankrupt made me sad not only that so many people take their lives because of the ugliness of money, but sad that an actor with regular work, in high status productions like Bond films and west-end plays, had come to find himself in such a pickle. If the successful ones are struggling to make ends meet, how on earth are the less successful ones getting by? If the seemingly happy ones ain’t happy, how are the other poor bastards doing? (And is there more to the occasionally-tickled issue of actors likely having something a bit wrong with them in the first place?)

Did Paul Bhattacharjee know when he was taking his bow as the highly desired male role of Benedick in the RSC production of Much Ado last year that a mere twelve months later he would literally find himself at rock bottom? Was it pride that drove him to it? The dichotomy between the outward appearance of the carefree, glamorous life of a respected working actor and the shame of a man who finds himself discredited and reduced? Did he feel like a fool? It seems a common thing for those who stumble their way to bankruptcy to be less worried about where the next few pennies are coming from, about the sudden lack of things, than they are about how they might look to people who find out. The aesthetics of debt. Pride. It was certainly a major factor in my father’s suicide.

This is naturally just my reflection on possibilities. I know nothing of Paul Battacharjee’s life. Tales of debt and suicide strike their own chords in me; the reverberations may well be wrong.

Battacharjee’s death has inspired many responses from other actors, those that knew him in life and those who did not; written ruminations not just about the sadness of his end, but about the precarious world of acting itself. His suicide has inspired actors to speak out; their own words, their own stories. Even those who are happy to admit that it can be a profession for idiots, eternal children and egotists, and that while in the employ of a production you are one of the luckiest fools on earth, even those are saying it’s fucking hard to be an actor and that to set about doing it with any focus on longevity you have to be a bit of a masochist.

I suppose it would be easy for non-actors to think that actors moaning about how ‘tough’ it is need to get a bloody grip because they could be swilling their hands about in sewage or sweeping an offal floor for a living.

But the truth is, all living is hard. The thing that demands the greater proportion of our waking time – our job, whatever that may be – is hard at some point. Humans are naturally set to struggle with it. Existing is a serious business. We weren’t born to do jobs – we’ve made them up as we go along out of necessity; supply and demand burgeoning in tandem with our precocious, vainglorious evolution. And time niggles us like a cattle-prod reminder that we haven’t got long left. That is why actors think acting is serious. That is why writers think writing is serious. Why shopkeepers and bankers and nail technicians think what they do is serious. Anything to which we give our time, our lives, and perhaps even more particularly our passion, is serious. Because we don’t get much time and it goes bloody quickly and even the most hopeful of us don’t know if we’re given any more at the end, and some of us are even driven to cut it short.

Being human, more so than a member of a man-made profession, is the hardest part. And a role for which we are never really amply prepared.

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