Little Lorla Gets Inked

My little sister and I were naughty. We went to the tattoo parlour without telling Mum.

Out of almost nowhere, Laura decided to get inked. I’ve already got two tattoos because I am Well Hard, so naturally I high-fived her and told her to get one of Satan riding a Harley Davidson on her chin. Not really. I told her to seriously consider the permanence of her decision. Not really. I said I’d go with her to make sure she didn’t get shafted by a pirate with a biro and buy her a pint afterwards.

Three weeks later I watched a woman stick a buzzing needle into my sister’s ivory skin. For the smallest of moments I almost flew over and punched the bird through ten walls, but then I remembered that my sister had chosen to be there, and that since she pushed out two big babies without pain relief in less time than it takes me to choose a new shower gel, my protectiveness has been a little surplus to requirements.

Tattoo parlours can feel like the scariest places in the world at first.

The chair looks like it’s been customised for extra pain by a Nazi dentist. The steriliser seeps into your imagination and makes you envisage you’re about to have a major organ chosen for sacrifice by the rolling of a pagan twelve-sided die. The music sounds a bit eerie, like that scene in Silence of The Lambs where the guy sticks his winkie between his thighs to make a noonoo. And there are always at least two men with varying degrees of grumpiness sitting around with their ear lobes blown open like cartoon cigars lit by dynamite. (I always want to stick my finger in those strange cultivated orifices. But they wouldn’t like it. I know this because I once licked a woman on the tube and have been scorchingly aware of what’s socially acceptable ever since.)

Then you realise that, actually, they’re just ‘places’. Like the hairdressers, or Matalan. There’s an element of risk, yes, that you will come out with the inky equivalent of a blue rinse or velour jogging bottoms; a mistake that will leave you hacking tears into the mirror once you get home, but mostly it’s just someone doing a job for you. Just – know what you want, and make sure you ruddy come out with it.

Having said that, even if you’ve spent the whole time relaxed and chatting about the tattooist’s nan Eileen and her flatulent budgerigar Albert, you can’t help but feel a little dangerous once you come out. Like if the Russian mafia swept passed and asked you to hold a mysterious package for a bit you might just say yes for the heck of it. YOU HAVE A TATTOO – YOU ARE DOUBLE-HARD AND THE LAW CAN LICK YOUR TOILET.

Laura emerged with a beautiful butterfly on her back and I bought her a Magners down the road. I had a congratulatory pint of John Smiths on behalf of Dad even though I knew he’d spin under his rose bush if he knew either of us had opted to have our skin marked like common sailor’s tarts. We wondered how we’d tell Mum. Laura, in the spirit of the moment, merely posted a picture on Facebook saying “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you…” And we giggled like rebels, like Russian assassins, like sisters under a duvet, like adults who should know better but don’t want to just yet.

You can hear Sadie doing stupid voices on CBBC’s Walk On The Wild Side all this week and next, 4.30pm. If you want.


Actors: Portrait of a Showmance

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s convenient perception of actors being self-absorbed needy coxcombs, but I feel I should tell you that some of them can actually be…the opposite of wank. I spent last week recording a BBC series called Walk On The Wild Side (comedy voiceovers to funny footage gleaned from the BBC’s wildlife footage), and I got to work with some of the loveliest dudes in the business. Like, some proper darlings, darlings.

The week got off to a laborious start however after I politely declined a car to pick me up from the station. I always feel funny being driven in a swish black car by a man in a suit – it makes me feel like I’m a colonial slave-owner named Miss Mabel in an undiscovered bootleg Dylan song about privilege and evil, so I usually say no and get the tube – wishing the TV companies would merely issue an Oyster card as one of the perks. Perhaps with a jaunty plastic cover, maximum. But I learnt my lesson this week as I ran late for the first day’s work and got sandwiched between two men on the central line who were both clearly sweating out a decade of bad late night curries right into my face. I sprang out of the carriage at Tottenham Court Road and spent the whole of my trot to Soho trying to keep my oesophagus from bursting out of my nostrils like a serpent of bile and woe. I turned up huffing, puffing, sweaty and stressed, lamenting my ridiculous decision not to have slaves.

Thank goodness the day got easier or it might have become something like work. I read the paper, ate a croissant, Brummied it up as a speed-dating chimp, had some tea, was a penguin for a bit, had some sushi, squealed as a meerkat, and wondered what to have for lunch the next day while having another sit down.

A lot of people take the piddle out of actors being all ‘luvvy’, and that’s because they are. And I think I know why. Because actors get to spend a lot of time sitting. In make-up chairs, in trailers, in studio slob-out areas waiting for their next scene, (and, less illustriously, at home waiting for their agent to call). And when they’re sitting they chat incessantly – at first out of graciousness, then out of curiosity, then out of genuine care for their temporary colleagues. Tot up the hours spent chit-chatting and pretty soon they have shared a lot of stuff – their heritage, their dreams, their eccentricities, the dull details of their domestics. Compound with that the time spent on scenes – the concentrated moments of creating something, and the ‘at ease’ moments in between characterisation where you giggle or muse the process, all the while exposing different glinting shards of something which is you, but not you – all that bonds you quicker than any other initiation period in any other job. Being paid to act is a validation of all your confidences and a reminder of all your insecurities, and an invitation to a thousand unrecognised pulses of the psyche along the way; it’s only natural you should cling to your companions while doing it. By the end of the second day you’re kissing everyone goodbye, calling people darling, and faux-weeping if someone has to leave early. There has been a genuine bond forged in the fires of fleeting creative industry. It’s not Love, but it’s Luv. Or a term I heard only recently – a ‘showmance’.

One of the best things about acting is having the wherewithal to fully embrace just how ludicrous a job it is, and how ludicrous you are for wanting to do it. It is a foolish, childish, unimportant profession compared to 97.3% of others (clinically proven), and if you don’t retain a high level of awareness about it that’s when you’re at risk of turning into one of those total nobs whom everyone hates. Working in comedy in particular, thank fuck, keeps you hyper aware while ‘acting like a dick’ of the pitfalls of actually ‘being a dick’.

Let’s spell this out: I spent a week doing things like gargling water while humming Lady Gaga as a seal, singing Sweet Caroline badly as a bird of paradise, and finding just the right sort of lisp for a simpleton goat. I got driven to and from work, was bought breakfast and lunch, sat around with some lovely funny people, watched Come Dine With Me, and did a few voices in between. Now I’m pretty sure that’s not a proper job. I feel immensely guilty about it actually; I might not let them pay me. In fact, I might pay them.

No matter how peachy that all is, it’s sometimes quite easy to fall into nonchalance about it. Even astronauts must get bored. Even Buzz Aldrin must have huffed at the moon and wished he was at home eating cereal. No matter how grounded or humble actors remain while on a job, how lucky they remember to feel, how aware they are of the fact they might never work again if fortune (or casting director) decides to look them up and down and too-casually say “nah”, how utterly replaceable they are – the simple fact is they are being utterly spoilt in the meantime (in the nice comfy budgets of Tellyland at least) and the sulky teen that resides somewhere in us all is being coaxed to the surface. “These organic digestives are completely devoid of any taste.”, “My driver insisted on talking to me this morning when I was really busy trying to finish a tweet.”, “I can’t believe they forgot my wasabi!”

One afternoon, after a tough five minutes for us actors exploring the dynamic of a shoal of exuberant fish, Jude Law strolled past us in our corridor-cum-teenagers’ pit and reminded me that even though we were spoilt enough to be waiting for Wagamama lunches to be lovingly placed on our laps, we were amoebas next to him. Dirty, ugly, poor ones. He floated through wearing garbs of cloth not spun on this earth, and we all fell silent. I glanced at my script. I was about to play a slightly confused wildebeest. Jude was probably going to re-do a line for a movie in which he played God – but, like, an extra hot version of God, with extra powers – like – hot but edgy award-winning ones. Even while remembering how fun this was, how lucky I am, I felt for one small moment like I would never achieve anything. Because I was not, nor would ever be Jude Law, and not just because I don’t have testicles. The hierarchy present in acting, as in all industries, flexed itself right there in front of me.

But then I remembered it didn’t matter. Because this was all playing. This job is silly. And playing God for Warner Brothers is just as silly as playing an amnesiac goldfish for the BBC, is as silly as playing the back-end of a pantomime horse, is as silly as rushing home from your office job to play an ‘urban’ Puck in bad am-dram Shakespeare, is as silly as playing Doctors & Nurses in a Wendy house. At its truest core, acting has no hierarchy. We are all just children, playing games.

I’ll be back on the tube next week, squished into the armpit of a tramp, trying not to puke, and I’ll try to remember to feel just as lucky as when I’m waiting for sushi, with a car outside to take me back home.

Maybe the tramp will have an Oscar tucked in his coat; forgotten, tarnished, but his.


Lost At The BBC: The Buzzcocks Jazz Ribena Sock-Shuffle

Last week I was introduced to the dubious delights of ‘Jazz Ribena’, which I think involves port and know involves dancing to odd Balkan music in your socks. I was at the end-of-series wrap party for Buzzcocks and the delightful oddities on Phill Jupitus’ ipod had everyone dancing like loons. (Though to be honest we all looked pretty sane next to Noel Fielding, cavorting in a sequinned dress.)

At one point mid-boogie, I realised rather sharply that I was on the verge of bladder-explosion and so went in search of a toilet. Everything at the BBC involves an epic search. That place is a maze – you should be given either sat-nav or a sherpa upon entry. Open a broom cupboard and you’ll probably find a forgotten member of The Bay City Rollers who got lost between his dressing room and the Top of The Pops studio in 1973.

I found a toilet. Being able to read, even after numerous Jazz Ribenas, got me that far. However, after a worryingly long wee – a thunderous affair which left me marvelling at my dam-like pelvic floor muscles (tended to, I suppose by a stoic beaver) – I wasn’t so lucky in finding my way back. I think I took a wrong turn as I first stepped out of the door – the first of so many wrong turns – and there began a little adventure in my socks.

I shuffled down empty corridors of unmarked doors, past strangely abandoned printers, the canteen, green-rooms, dressing rooms. I stood in an empty studio all cloaked in shadows, and in its chill could almost hear the echoes of decades of laughter. I heard a noise that was probably just the clanking of a pipe, and hurried out. Back through the eternal curve of that circular behemoth, eyes dawdling on the framed faces of past and present glory, smiles all stopped still in the turgidity of TV make-up. The optical whip of walking in a constant spiral made them appear as though they were moving as soon as I took my eyes off them; dancing away in some other-worldly ball.

I could easily have panicked, alone in secreted round corners of that building and unaided by logic to find my way back, but instead I felt a bit enchanted by its ghostliness. Even in my tipsy haze I couldn’t help but be respectful of my surroundings – the history held in its walls. I thought about the institution it was, the fact it wouldn’t be there for much longer, the many people that had passed through its halls. I was achingly aware that it is all now tinged by the recent awful stories about it. It seemed a bit haunted by itself.

I came across Gordon the Gopher, who was encased in what looked like bullet-proof glass, and I stopped. Here was my childhood, inlaid in a wall. This little fella for years greeted me when I got in from school. I sat cross-legged on the floor watching his puppeteered moosh chatting to Phillip Schofield while I ate my stinky Space Raiders. Here he was, his mouth still, his little fluffy bum unanimated, his eyes an ungleaming black. I wanted to cuddle him but I thought cracking him out might get me arrested. (Though at least getting chucked out of the building would be better than being signed off as permanently missing, like a lost glove.)

The first time I went to the beeb was on a school trip as part of my GCSE Media course back in the mid 90s. Arriving on a coach at the postcode that I had memorised from Blue Peter competitions thrilled me, and going through the revolving doors into the foyer felt like passing into another hallowed dimension. Us girls, high on Cherry Drops and an endless chant of rude-word Ten Green Bottles, all hoped to spot ‘famous people’ (the word ‘celebrities’ wasn’t common in our vocabularies then). We were vaguely disappointed to only catch a glimpse of, yes, Jimmy Savile. He swaggered through like he owned the place, grinning, and we hoped he might just be the dud start to a much more impressive parade of stars. We would never have suspected that he was anything other than a harmless cheesy old duffer with a cigar. I would never have thought that I would be back in the building years later, with everything changed. I would never have thought that that swagger, that grin, that air of ownership about him, would have so dark a source.

I looked at Gordon and I felt anger. Real rage. About the abuse, about the sordid gatherings, about all the things that went on behind some of these doors. About the sullying of innocence and magic, about the trust and starstruck hope that was manipulated for the whims of an abhorrent clique of powerful movers and shakers. Childhoods, all our childhoods, somehow negated as stupid. We were scoffed at, even the lucky ones of us. We were fools; herded, unimportant, worthy of damage. It could have been any of us, and so is all of us.

I felt rage about the casual way in which some people go around affecting people’s lives. It’s one thing to have dodgy proclivities, to have dubious desires and habits – but to deny, underestimate, or (endlessly worse) completely disregard the effect your actions will have on others is truly evil.

Jimmy Savile didn’t just give in to vile urges. He trampled over people’s souls and changed the way they think of humans and the world forever. He gave them a heritage of mistrust, ugly thoughts, and nightmares for the sake of his own snatched subversive jollies. And his clever evasion of it – his defiance and his cynical-playful half-confessional denials, his twisting of the media which at times half-heartedly came for him – proves beyond a doubt that he knew it was all wrong.

He knew what he was doing was wrong.

That is what is beyond cruelty. He knew, and he chose all that over doing the right and kind – the ‘human‘ – thing. (Which was, if he couldn’t have guaranteed that his abusive urges be controlled, to undergo some very expensive psychological treatment, lock himself away from society, or to kill himself.)

Someone once said to me “If I am in your life, it must be as a good thing”, and for a while they weren’t in my life, and now they are again in a new and healthy capacity. I have always valued the consideration that went into saying that. He might have not cared. He could have stuck around and been a bad thing. But he didn’t. He chose not to affect me. He understood on a primary human level that people’s lives, that my life, is important, and that no one has the right to wilfully taint it. We all leave legacies in everything we do. We must always think of what imprints we will leave – on cherished family, on our friends, even on the chap that runs the corner shop.

The BBC has many legacies, for many people. I have been lost in it a good few times, but never, til now, knowing that for some people its legacies are far darker. There have been other things lost in that building, and it’s so so sad that as I found my way back to the party I wondered if it might take demolition to allow the BBC to move on from it all. Crush these hallowed halls and start afresh. Sad.

I carried on dancing, I drank more Jazz Ribena – but it didn’t taste the same.