Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Call of The Stage

It was the end of Summer 2008. I’d had a bit of a year. A lengthy period of ill health had kept me off work for four months. My wonderful father in law had passed away. I had returned to work, eased back by performing a new less challenging role to protect my fragile state of mind. My confidence was low. The ability to enjoy life had become a challenge. My family and friends had suffered great concern for me. I struggled to cope with guilt for the worry I had caused them. But, by the end of the Summer I was starting to emerge. Slowly regaining the characteristics which made me the person people knew. I’d taken the tablets, talked things through, put ‘stuff’ in order. I was beginning to live again.

It was during this period of optimism that we joined friends on a sunny, Sunday afternoon for drinks and food in a beautiful garden. I was with a group of people I felt at ease with. Some of these friends knew how bad I had been. Others simply knew I hadn’t been right. But in the warmth of that garden all seemed well. My world that day did appear to be rose tinted.

As the afternoon wore on with the usual village tittle tattle, the stories and laughter, someone mentioned the latest edition of the Village Gazette. Had we seen the article by the Village Players for new members to take part in their next production the following March? This was an annual appeal which had always stirred something in me. Could I, should I ? However, in the past I had never quite got round to doing anything. Too many excuses. That afternoon though, fuelled by wine and summer sun, I announced that I would indeed be auditioning for a part. A few other sozzled souls expressed similar intentions – none of which were ever fulfilled. My wife gave me that knowing look as much to say “are you sure?”. The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. What better way to finally emerge from my darkness. I would be committed to something I would have to complete. Imagine the confidence I would gain from the achievement. An opportunity to prove to myself that I was still a capable person.

Between this sunny afternoon and the date for the auditions, my recovery continued with a few blips here and there. For some reason though, the thought of the play filled me with a determination to go forward. It felt like something to aim for. Something to grasp.

Into the Autumn and on a grey, windy Sunday, I attended the village hall for the audition. I entered the hall to see all these familiar people whom I had watched performing over the years. There were only a couple of other, new faces like me. Although I knew all these people – it’s like that where I live – it struck me I was entering their world. Should I be here? What would they think of me? Do they really want the likes of me gate crashing their cosy little group? The doubts set in, the confidence plunged. But, I was there now. I couldn’t just turn round and walk out. I made myself join the circle and sat down. I was welcomed. People seemed genuinely pleased to see me, sort of excited to have a fresh face to join them. I was handed a script and as the afternoon wore on I was asked to read various parts. It wasn’t so bad after all. At the end I left my contact details with the director and headed straight to the pub. My first pint that day tasted so good. All I had to do now was wait.

A few days later an e-mail arrived from the director titled ‘Cast List’. I clicked it open and scanned quickly through the list. I was sure I could see my name more than once. Had there been an error, a computer glitch, or had the director lost his mind? No, my name was definitely next to three different characters. From never having acted, I was now to play three parts in one play. And that’s when it hit me. What had I done? I was recovering so well. Why had I pushed myself into doing this? The director knew nothing of my troubles so he had not sought to protect me. He assumed I wanted to be properly involved, was impressed with my reading, glad of fresh blood. He hadn’t taken the easy option of picking people he knew would perform solidly for him. He had chosen me to be a big part of his production. He had seen something in me which I didn’t know was there. Sadly, I’ve never been able to tell him how important that was to me at that particular time in my life. Maybe he will see this.

The next 3 months, through Christmas and into early Spring were full of rehearsals, learning lines and costume fittings. At least twice a week I entered this new world, where I felt good. It was a scary world but the challenge spurred me on. It filtered through to my normal life. People began to notice how much better I seemed. Only one person, my wife, knew how hard I was working and how important this challenge was for me. Despite the impact on our own precious time together, she, I think, sensed that this was helping to mend me. She quietly encouraged me, soothed my anxiety. Without her, I don’t know where I would have gone. Certainly none of my fellow actors were aware of my difficulties. But that was the beauty of it. At work, since my illness, people had tried to protect me, wrap me up like a baby. It could be suffocating.

Maybe it was because for the time I was acting, I wasn’t me. I was 3 other people, not me on show with all my ‘stuff’ getting in the way. It was the best medicine and therapy all rolled into one.

I will never forget the emotions I felt as we took our bow at the end of the first performance, the sheer joy of knowing what I had achieved. To have gone from where I was the year before to this was almost incomprehensible. I will also never forget the fear before each performance and the absolute relief and exhaustion once it was all over.

This tale explains why I am now working on my 3rd production. This small village group played such a huge part in my recovery. I have to keep doing it. I still have my problems but this annual challenge, this chance to be someone else; it just helps me so much.

When I question what I am doing, the pressure of learning the lines, giving up afternoons and evenings I could be spending with my wife, I just look back at that first time.

And that is The Call of The Stage.

Saturday, 11 December 2010


I'm feeling flat. Really flat. It's a strange feeling. Can't be bothered with anything. Little things are annoying me. Why? I think I may be connected somehow to the snow. As the snow is slowly releasing it's grip on the landscape, disappearing to nothing, so my energy and well being seems to be following. Maybe it's a reaction to the last couple of weeks. The constant struggle to get to work to perform my seemingly pointless role in the big world. The worry of loved ones struggling too to carry on. Having to plan each journey instead of just leaving the house. Keeping warm, keeping upright. All a bloody struggle.
But hold on, it's only snowed and that's not unheard of at this time of year. Ok, 19 inches is more snow than I've seen since childhood (when the Summers were all long and hot too) but it's hardly show stopping is it? Well it is apparently. Everything stops. Normality is suspended. The TV news shows endless snow stories. Companies are criticised for not coping. People buy 6 months worth of bread and milk if they make it to a shop. Petrol stations run dry. For whatsit's sake - it's not Armageddon. It's snow. I used to love it, the freshness, the beauty. Do kids still love it? I must be getting old. My mood has ebbed and flowed, and now I am flat. Tired.
It's not the snow, it's the way we react to it. That's what has drained me. Wish we could all just embrace the different world this weather brings. Don't struggle against it, go with it. Look for the pros, not the cons.
Suppose I should practice what I preach.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

My coat's big day out

Last Saturday, my favourite coat reached the grand old age of 22. Coat and I first came together on my 18th birthday. It was a gift from my Dad and Stepmum. At the time I was working on an animal rescue farm, spending lots of time outside in the cold, wet and mud, upto my eyeballs in muck. Therefore, Coat was an appropriate choice of present.
Coat is what is technically known as a waxed jacket. It's not a Barbour. You know the sort of thing - green or brown, waxy looking heavy coats. The sort of thing that city workers put over their suits for the daily commute to the office. They keep them in the back of their pristine Land Rovers for the hike to the station from the car park. That is why their coats are all nice and shiny. I think they probably get them serviced at the same time as the 4x4.
Anyway, Coat is brown. It is dull. It is patchy. It even has a couple of small holes. The tartan lining is faded. It has lived has coat. Coat smells of weather, of pubs, of tobacco, of me. The pockets contain weird and wonderful bits and pieces. A plastic survival whistle, a bottle opener / corkscrew, the lid from a bottle of Old Speckled Hen, dog biscuits slowly decaying, various empty plastic bags, ciggarette papers so  old and damp they are beyond use, scraps of paper with notes and directions. All these things must have been needed at some point in time. I keep these pockets as they are, like preserving some historical tale.
I got to thinking about how old Coat was as I approached my latest birthday. I realised that Coat had journeyed with me for over half my life. And it has been the interesting half. The half when I stepped into the big bad world. The half when I discovered that I needed to change careers every five minutes. The half when I loved, lost and finally loved again.
Coat has been with me through the birth of my niece and nephew, now teenagers in New Zealand. Coat was with me when I met my wife 14 years ago. Coat has shared my happiness and at times my despair. Coat comforted me during my recovery from a motorbike accident - accompanying me as I walked the fields and lanes trying to make sense of stuff. Coat has hidden me as I wondered the dark woods on wet, wild nights crying out for answers. Coat carried my supplies, the hip flask snug in the inner pocket, the roll ups protected from the rain. Coat is like a grown up comfort blanket. When I put it on, I feel more me, if that makes sense.
Coat has seen it all - been there got the T-shirt if you like. Coat knows me like no other.
Last week, I realised with guilt that I had failed to mark Coat's 21st birthday last year. Therefore I decided to make up for it this year. Coat and I had a day out to Twickenham to watch England play New Zealand at Rugby Union. We went on the train, Coat carrying all our essentials - tickets, money, drink, food. Coat was amazed to see so many younger, shinier looking versions of itself. Coat felt old. Coat felt scruffy.
But Coat, my dear friend, you have lived so much more than these shiny upstarts. You have worked hard, you've played hard, you've comforted. Be proud, you truly are a special Coat.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Mr Mog ( Miserable Old Git )

After a year or so of watching and commenting on certain blogs, I have finally taken the plunge and have started my own one. Why? I had never really discovered blogs until a conversation in my local pub. A chap I knew simply as Phillip, told me he had his own blog. At the time Phillip and I were acquaintances who drank at the same time in the same pub. Phillip was usually reading a book, whilst I would be at the bar reading the paper. We spoke and were friendly, but not really friends if you see what I mean. However, typing in his blog address on my laptop at home opened up a new world to me. His words made me laugh. His profile told me stuff about him which I would never have asked. He linked me to other blogs. I was amazed. All these people from all over the world sharing their thoughts and stories. I was hooked. Then I discovered I could comment on these posts. The thrill I felt on seeing my comments published was great. Phillip and I then began actually talking in real life. His posts continued to amuse and fascinate me, whilst my comments seemed to please him. We became friends. You here so much these days about technology killing communication, no one writing letters or phoning for a chat. Well here was an example of it working in opposite. The things Phillip and I learnt about each other via the blog were things that blokes in pubs don’t talk about. Not only us, but the other members of the early doors drinking club were drawn in. I don’t think any of them became dedicated followers of Phillip like myself, but the conversations our blog related discussions threw up expanded to include everyone. To say it was a catalyst may be a bit strong. But the blog had changed things. I had gained a friend for one thing.

The other thing my blog discovery provided was an insight into the lives of ordinary people. I have always loved autobiographies. But how many do you see of normal people? I always felt every person’s life must be interesting. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, there has to have been challenges. There has to have been amusing situations. There has to be joy, sadness, discovery, boredom. Each life is full of these and much more. Surely, if everyone wrote an autobiography it would fascinate if nothing else. Maybe it’s more simple than that. Am I just nosey? I think my life story would make quite a read. Hopefully I can bring some of this to you in my blog.

Now for the title-Mr Mog  (Miserable Old Git). My wife calls me Mog when I am having one of my frequent moans about whatever is annoying me. To be fair, I'm not always miserable, i'm only old if you are under 20 and I like to think I'm not that much of a git. But, I do moan. A lot. I don't have a naturally smiley face. Not many things make me laugh out loud. I tend to mumble. I enjoy my own company. So, outwardly, I can see why people don't see me as a bringer of sunshine. In fact another nickname I have is Happy Harry. However, inside, I like to think I'm not a bad person. I do love a good moan though. Maybe I can share some on the blog. It could be like therapy.

Well, I hope this first attempt is well received.

By the way, my friend Phillip is http://www.domesticatedbohemian.blogspot.com/