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Friday, 1 June 2007

On being away

The single most heartbreakingly frustrating thing about my job. Try to describe what I am without describing my catch 22. The grey cloud that follows me on my travels, darker grey the further away from home I stray and the longer I stray for. An English variety performer. From England, where variety died out decades before I was even born. Now that's comedy. So here I am, in pretty much the best-case scenario, in that I have worked hard enough and long enough to have developed enough of a reputation that I can make my living from what is, for the most part, enjoyable rewarding work in front of appreciative audiences and with decent paydays. Only thing is, it's all abroad.

Now don't get me wrong, there is a certain obvious and delicious cache to being flown all over the World in order to inflict my personal brand of manipulative miscellanea on people. The part of me that loves being called a "Gentleman Juggler" as a tribute to those impeccably-dressed, stylish and cool vaudevillians from the late 1900s also adores being in a different country every few days. There's not a journey I don't take for work when I don't think of all the performers who have come before me, my heroes from the golden age of variety and music hall, and how readily they'd exchange their journeys of weeks on a steam ship from port to port for my quick flight to another exotic stage. So I don't want to sound ungrateful. It's the life I've chosen and I love it. But it's not easy.

As I sit here in a small comfortable room on a luxury cruise ship moored at Barcelona, I can't for the life of me, think of what day it is. All I know is that today I have 2 more shows, tomorrow 2 shows, then the next day I go home. I know that I next see my wife on Thursday, so working backwards, that must mean that today is Tuesday. I haven't even been on this trip for very long, but pretty quickly all the days merge into the spaces between eating, going to the gym and doing shows. I'm away for less than a week, but from the moment I leave the house the goal is not to let the date of my return figure too loudly in my consciousness. It would be easy just to focus on the end of the gig, and god knows I've been on trips where that was the only way to get through it, but this isn't one of them. It's completely pleasant, so I have to work hard not to get into the dangerous mind-set of counting that days until I'm back home. You do that and you miss being in the moment, you miss the fun of actually being in these gorgeous and interesting parts of the World, and if you do that, then you just end up being one of those performers who always moans, however cushy the gig, and these people deserve a rant all to themselves. They are, very much, no fun.

I always try to make time to see the places we stop at, to explore. My technique when I'm in a hotel is to take a card or matchbook or something with the hotel's name and address on and then just go out and get completely lost. That's how you get a real impression of a place. Then if I can't find my way back to the hotel I can just get a taxi and point at the matchbook. Hasn't failed me yet. Cruise ships are a little different, their usually to find your way back to as they're (a) enormous and (b) usually located at the bit where the land stops and the water starts. Although I must admit I have got into the habit, when walking up the jetty to shore away from the ship, or muttering to myself "Everyone - remember where we parked".

So like I said, don't get me wrong, one of the parts of my life that I treasure most is the file of memories I have from a bunch of wildly different places that my job has taken me to, and there's not one of those trips on which I haven't reminded myself how lucky I am. Not one. But being on the sofa with my wife and my cat, with a belly full of her soup and a Steven Seagal movie on TV trumps it all. My wife makes the soup, not my cat. Thought I should make that clear.

The worst thing about being away isn't the basic, aching feeling of missing my wife, although that's pretty bad we're both good and handling it. Worse than that is being in interesting, glamorous, far-flung places. Without her. If I'm somewhere dull, then all I can think of is how much more fun this would be if she were here. God knows in our years together we've been to some crappy places and had fun there. Coventry. Honest to god, Coventry. But worse than that are the times I find myself in a non-dull place. I lose count of the number of places I have found myself in and the single thing running through my mind is simply "I want to show her this". Many of the places I've fallen in love with, I've fallen in love with alone - the streets of downtown Tokyo - crackling with the electricity of potential fun to be had, beautiful bays on the coast of Italy - whisper quiet except for Italian children playing in the warm sea, even something as banal as finding a nice restaurant in Hannover - all these things and so many more, and the overriding thought is "this is great, if only she was here".

It's almost as if I become a child drawing pictures at school for the sole reason of showing his mum when he gets home but losing them on the bus, so having to be content with describing the pictures to her instead.

Am I being self-indulgent? I hope not, although I'll take it on the chin if I am. I have taken her to some of the places I've first visited solo - the Italian bay, for example, she fell in love with as immediately and totally as I did. The pleasure of walking around an Italian town, pointing out places where I performed while we eat our 3rd ice cream of the day (From an ice cream parlour that had shelves stacked with big gold cups, won in ice cream-making competitions) is hard to top.

On second thoughts, perhaps it's worth it for that.

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