Brighton and Colchester
I’m sitting on the seafront basking in the sun. My bench has a plaque that reads: “FAY HARRIS 1921 – 2007. Please take time to sit and stare”. So I have and I do. A seagull the size of a toddler comes pecking up. Let’s call him Adam. He mooches about the bench for a bit, then gives up. I am not a feeder. Fuck off, Adam. Out to sea lies a wind farm looking like a flotilla of giant insects rallying for an invasion. The warm sun makes my skin prickle with delight. Behind me relentless motor traffic washes like surf. I’m loath to leave but I’m late for load-in around the corner. Holiday over. The local crew at the Old Market are super-professional and friendly. They are the first venue crew of this tour to introduce themselves to us as opposed to the other way around. Mr. Pringle referred to some of the more useless ones as “School of Rock”. These folk are proper theatre people who know what they’re doing. I help out for fifteen minutes then scarper back out to the sunlight. There’s a little juice bar at the stage door and I buy a bottle of mystery green matter labelled simply L1. This is a sop to healthy living. It tastes of caterpillars and riverbank. I sit on a garden chair in the joint’s doorway while the patron plays Jimmi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady on his stereo. Feeling good, a no doubt temporary affliction. A man loitering on his phone says, “Thanks Nettie. Big hugs”. I consider this for a moment and decide you can’t send big hugs via a telephone call. It doesn’t make sense. A hug is a corporeal thing, it’s not abstract like love or longing. By this calculus I decide the man is soft in the head. I nose around the posh neighbourhood, peering into a brasserie where a jazz trio are playing The Lady is a Tramp. You can tell music is live as soon as you hear it – it has an ineffable presence. You’re drawn to it. Walking through the Regency splendour of Brunswick Square I hear a strange peal from above. I crane my neck to see a baby seagull bleating in distress on the terrace roof. Adam has abandoned him in the relentless search for chips. Back at the front the sun and moon are facing off at opposite ends of the beach. There’s a golden stain on the steel blue sea where the sun is lowering to meet its reflection. The moon rises with a triumphalist smirk. A swimmer carves through the water from west to east and the waves break softly with a little rustle of pebbles like a dowager adjusting her pearls. A man in a flat cap throws his baby in the air, just holding on as his arms fully extend. The baby gurgles with pleasure. At the shore a woman in a long black coat walks a big white dog on a leash long enough to reach France. They rest at a breaker and the dog digs and barks at some exciting scent. This starts off another dog across the promenade. Call and response. One saying “Big hugs”, the other “You’re soft in the head”.
It’s a good crowd for a seated venue and it all goes off splendidly. I chat briefly to guests before hotel bar and bed. Then to Colchester. The venue there is a converted church that sits in the shadow of the town’s enormous “Jumbo” water tower, modelled on a renaissance palazzo, by the looks of it. I have an uninspiring stroll through the narrow streets for an hour. The town hall is very impressive, built in Edwardian Baroque style according to the internet. I poke around a second-hand curio boutique with Mr. Johnson, finding a portable transistor radio from the 70s made in the USSR. I try on a suit but it doesn’t quite fit. I go next door to a chain clothing outlet and try on some jeans but they’re for a younger man. I try on a corduroy coat in a vintage clobber shop which fits but I but can’t commit. I’m bored. After soundcheck I hide in a low-beamed pub nursing a mineral water. I could happily curl up under the table and have a nap. The show is fine, the audience amiable.
I go through my routine in the morning. Idiot-check the bathroom, the bedclothes, the floor. I actually mutter “clear” as I tick off each task. The shark’s jaws of my suitcase are zipped up and I set it on its four wheels to do its ballet through corridor and foyer. I make it do a pirouette on the smooth tiled floor at the exit. The sun is angling across the beige surface of the dual carriageway and England is finally yellowing for winter. The van is quiet, the only noise the hum of our dirty diesel engine. London awaits like a lurking army in its great valley. We creep on with trepidation. No one’s yet up for the fight.