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Monday, 25 June 2007

Burlesque in Oxford

Had the pleasure of performing as part of a Ministry Of Burlesque show this weekend. There was glamour, dirty songs, sillyness and complimentary champagne. Fun was had by all.

A little bit of actual magic

My wife, as regular readers (or people who, y'know, actually know me) will know, works for the British Film Institute where she toils away watching dvd's all day and drinking tea (she actually works really hard, but in-jokes need care and attention or they die)
Anyway. The other day an envelope finds it way to her desk address thus:

Ken Russell
Film Director

And then, in tiny handwriting right at the bottom:

Please get this to him.

Clearly someone has been so moved by one of Ken's films that they have felt that aching need - as I think we all have felt at one time or another - so somehow reach out to the creator of a work and say "Thank you".

When I was a kid it would have been Valerie Landsburg who played Doris from "Fame" and was really important to me (Strangely in later years I did actually meet her and we hit it off quite stylishly). With the advent of the internet it became a little more possible to reach someone. I once found an email address for the great and wonderful actor Bruce Campbell and wrote to him, not expecting a reply, but was astonished to recieve a reply, and another and another. We had quite the little email relationship until he clearly realised that you shouldn't talk to nutjob fans on the internet.

But the writer of the letter that landed on Lesley's desk didn't, it seems, know about the internet, so just got an envelope and wrote the facts they knew on it: His name. His job. He lives in London. And please get it to him.

The magic part is, that it will get to him. The Bfi do, of course, have contact details for him, (There's even a Ken Russell season in the works soon), so it's just a case of sending it on. Thanks to, I guess, the post office who thought "Film director? London? the Bfi'll know.."

It'll get there. The writer will have made contact and said "Thank you".


Wednesday, 20 June 2007


Looks like they're letting me into a theatre again in London this Christmas..

I'm keeping it under my hat for the time being, but I'll say this much:

Late night... Limited run... Adults only...

More news soon.

Dead Stories

Myself and a couple of other acts are waiting on the dockside to be cleared to board the cruise ship. As we wait an ambulance passes by, picking up someone who fell ill while the ship was at sea. It's the excuse the other performers need to start telling a few shaggy cruise stories. I sit on my suitcase and listen.

There are cruise lines which specialise in older passengers - even some that have age limits below which you are not entitled to buy a ticket. Apparently many people who think that their time on this planet is fast coming to an end - either because of illness or just age - spend the last bits of their savings on a few-month long cruise, fully expecting to die while at sea enjoying their last hurrah or cocktails and balcony naughtiness. Good for them, I say. From what I hear, the looks of annoyance and disappointment on their faces when they disembark the ship having survived the cruise are priceless. I am told you'll never see someone more pissed-off to be alive.

These particular cruises - the ones that specialise in old people and last a few months - expect to return with a couple of empty cabins. That's just maths and good sense. But here's the interesting bit: When someone dies on board and the ship is between ports for a few days, they stow the body in the kitchen's desert freezer. So, the bottom line is simple: If they serve you ice cream after every meal - someone's kicked the bucket. Allegedly.

Watching the sun set in Athens

I've been to Athens a handful of times in the last couple of months, but never actually had the time to see any of the place yet. More often than not I arrive late in the evening jet-fucked and have to leave early the next morning to make a connection, so it's not really been possible until this evening. I arrived at about 7pm and, as my hotel was right on the seafront, decided to go for a walk up the coast a little as the sun went down.

I wandered up the promenade by the water, the breeze from the sea warm on me, ever so gently blowing away the sticky stale tiredness that flying brings. Looks like most of Athens had the same idea as me as the wide path that stretches in long lazy curves ahead of me is full of people, all of them seemingly made calm by the inescapably relaxed atmosphere. The air carries with it the ripe salty smell of the sea, mixed with the occasional extra sweetness - pizza dough cooking in a nearby restaurant, a joint being enjoyed by a young couple sitting on the rocks in the water, or the sudden flowery zing of a middle-aged woman's perfume.

The more I people-watch, the more I notice the couples. Seems like everyone brings their lover here. People of all ages, sitting by the waters edge, sitting outside cafes, sitting on the little slivers of beach, all - for want of a better word - canoodling. Giggling together, watching the sunset in the water, laying on each other. Not just young people, although there are plenty of those, but everyone. I see a chubby cheerful round-faced man in an old blue t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Athletic performance" almost lift his wife up by her ass, such is the determination with which he caresses it. She responds by giggling and lunging towards him to bite his ear before resting her head on his shoulder. One of the few solo walkers also catches my eye. An elegant middle aged woman walking her tiny dog while she wears huge sunglasses and high heels.

What a very nice place.

Then I start to imagine how close an English city could get to this relaxed, sexy, gently intoxicating atmosphere. Not very, is my conclusion. Which begs the question, where are the things that would ruin it in my home country? Where are the gangs of lads pushing each other around and spitting? Where are the kids with football shirts and freshly gelled hair seeing who can throw their empty can the furthest into the water? Where are the shrieking girls, their pale thighs squeezed into Primark miniskirts? Where are the city boys talking on the mobiles? Where are all the things that make my

The obvious answer is that they're there if you look, that I was just seeing the nice things because I was in a good mood and seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. But I had these thoughts as I was walking back. I actively looked for signs that all cities have the some of the same foul people. Couldn't find one. Not a one. Nobody was even talking loudly. I was meandering along having mingled with a crowd of hundreds of people, all also meandering along, and the loudest sound was the gentle lap and fizz of the inch-high waves.

I have no answers, but maybe it's good sometimes to at least notice that there are questions

Friday, 8 June 2007

A list of things in my cutlery drawer that are not cutlery, or cutlery-type items

Plastic disposable spork (not used)
Benylin bottle caps
Hotel-size jam pot (washed and empty)
Hotel key card, Ballys, Las Vegas
Combination padlock, still in sealed packaging
Informational card about growing mint
Handmade leather flowers (large, x2)
Miniature disposable plastic champagne flutes (x2)
Lighter shaped like a sexy lady's torso (x2, one silver, one gold, neither working)
Empty packet of Strepsils
Hot water bottle stopper
Marmalade lid, washed

It's like an insane asylum for things.

Friday, 1 June 2007

How on earth was I not aware of this?

Sadly, the shop had none in stock.

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.

Intrigue in Paris

Ever get the feeling a character from a movie has slipped into real life for a little while?

I was at Charles De Gaul Airport in Pairs, waiting patiently in line to show my passport and go and stand with crossed fingers by the baggage carousel. In front of me was a woman. French, I'd guess, although I didn't hear say a thing, so it's only a guess. In her Early 20's. Not unattractive. wearing jeans, little heels and a beige half-length trench coat. Her dark hair in a little ponytail.

She had one item of carry-on luggage, a white Chanel shopping bag, the black cord handle resting in the crook of her arm. She got my attention not for any of these reasons, but because - and there's no less cliched way of saying this, she looked a little nervous. Looking around a little too much. Checking her watch.

As she turned to look in the opposite direction from me I happened to glance down into her Chanel bag. Not quite knowing what to make of what I saw, I made sure to look a few more times to be certain that I did indeed see, in her bag, a blonde curly wig and a pair of calf-length black leather boots.

In her carry-on luggage.

Spy? Call-girl? Con-artist? If she really had stepped out of a French film, then the chances are all three. The interesting thing here, I think, on reflection, is that I cannot think of any explanation for those items and her behaviour that isn't very, very exciting.

She went through passport control quickly and unchallenged, and strode off into the airport to continue on with what I can only assume was her adventure.

Who wants to read her blog?