“I’m worried you’ll get lonely.”
But I have never felt lonely. I’ve had surrogate-housemate relationships since I was eighteen.
I lived with eight people at that point when I was a wide-eyed fresher. That become five people when I was nineteen and thought I was a little more discerning when I definitely wasn’t. Four when I was twenty one and had an image in my head of who I wanted to be. A steady constant of two others throughout my twenties as I made that image a reality until I got to just one at aged thirty one. Stephen. He too has now gone.
Though he was relatively late to the party, Stephen had an outsized affect on my life. When I was at the absolute worst of my depression in 2015, the day I felt my feet inching towards the front of a speeding bus, it was Stephen I went to and said that I needed help. Dramatic though it is to say it, I’ve no doubt I would be dead now if not for him.
But it’s not the big things I’ve missed, really.
It’s the knock at the door and a cup of tea when you’ve got a steaming hangover.
It’s living vicariously through a disastrous dating life.
It’s sharing the tiny triumphs when you’re trying to build successful careers.
It’s someone to let you in when you’re locked out.
It’s being asked “pint?” and saying “sure” without having to book a person five years in advance.
It’s been a month since my last housemate left. Looking at his room, now just a room, a room that hasn’t really been empty for nearly eight years, eight seminal years when I was just striking out into the world, I find myself realising that at this point there probably aren’t anymore housemates, not like the ones in your twenties/early thirties. There will be no one to share that next stage of life with.
I finally understand what my grandmother meant.
First post in a while! Sorry…I’ve been “Going Through Some Things TM” as well as taking on a lot of work. Normal service will resume shortly.
For now, here’s a short I wrote for a project called “COLONY PART ONE”, a night of poetry’n’plays curated by playwright Jingan Young (who also had a couple of pieces in the mix) for the Kings College Arts & Humanities Festival. Other scribblings were provided by Tom McMullan, Lydia Thomson, Allan Johnson with a poem by Jack Underwood and an installation by artist Aowen Jin rounding it out.
It ran for five nights in October in a sneaky little bar downstairs in the Kings building on the Strand. Strong audiences, met some fantastic actors that I’ll hopefully get a chance to work with again and I got to see the London skyline from a central rooftop on a night with high clouds. The skyline’s a mess. A beautiful, beautiful mess.
Overall, it was a joyful project to be a part of, involving sweat, rum, UV paint, blind internet collaboration, 3 AM meals at Hungs in Chinatown and possibly the most bizarre night out I’ve had in years. Lots of a beautiful, hard-to-find Adnams ale, some terrifying dance moves and to round it off I got bitten (twice) by a ferociously angry wanna-be intellectual/alpha male who I think was figuring out his inner conflicts by attacking others in a sexually aggressive fashion. Can’t wait for Part 2.
The play itself I enjoyed writing but think there’s room for more to it. Think I’ll expand it out to something around 20-25 minutes.
So the aforementioned emotional and draining week was immediately followed up by my 28th birthday yesterday and the imminent departure to foreign lands of my housemate, best friend and former fellow band member, Crawf (as I know him).
Saturday’s birthday celebration was a successful 12 (and a half) hour jolly in a pub and though a great time was had, it was the friend-leaving that dominated my thoughts as the day got towards its end. Crawf and I have known each other since we were 11, becoming proper friends at 15. We started a band together, suffered through French class and I saw him go through his first serious relationship (which started at Reading Festival 2002, post-GCSE results, whilst I was sleeping in the same tent…).
This was followed by going to the same uni, where we didn’t see each other a huge amount but shared a few friends, and then finally we ended up living together for 5 1/2 years after that, 4 in this same flat I’m in right now. We’ve gone on trips abroad, explored the depths of London, done each other’s washing up and got very much used to each other’s foibles. I’ve come to rely on him quite heavily as a confidant and schemer. Whilst everyone around us seemed to be settling down, getting married, moving away or becoming monstrously career driven, we sort of pottered along together. Not unfocused, or undriven – he taught himself Korean and studied accountancy from scratch, I have started carving out a minor career in scriptwriting – but somewhat partners in low-level-life crime.
Crawf, having diligently focused for a few years whilst working a job that didn’t quite fulfil, decided to travel to shake things up. But then he also announced that he’d work abroad if he possibly could so this was going to be more than month long jape – it was potentially forever. I knew it was coming, so today isn’t a surprise, and there were little stages of readiness – researching destinations, booking the flights, quitting his job. All in preparation for a fundamental change in his life. However, what I hadn’t realised until very recently is quite how much his grand shift was going to alter my own existence. We tend to drift merrily (or not-so-merrily) through our lives, embracing a sort of stasis so much so that when change suddenly sets upon you, it lurches both your routine and your heart. In an instant, the old ways cease, your world is alien and there is absolutely no going back.
The last few hours of his time here have had that searing quality of utter reality that burns through the everyday humdrum. Sod the water bill: This Is Happening. Life Is Going To Be Very Different. Not in the big ways, but in a thousand little cumulative ways that together mean so much more:
I won’t be able to knock on his door whenever to show him an article I think he’ll enjoy.
I won’t be able to throw a line at him to see if he laughs (and thus know it’s funny).
We won’t drop anything to have a session of Super Smash Brothers on the N64 at a moment’s notice.
I won’t be able to make terribly un-PC remarks knowing I’m not being judged.
I won’t be able to sit on his bed and work whilst he’s playing DragonAge for the 20th time.
I won’t be able to tell him of my women woes and have him judge me for my lack of courage and foresight (although I might still be able to swing that one on Skype).
We won’t make impromptu burrito runs.
Along with all that, I won’t be able to so easily share the joys of my future artistic endeavours, which obviously mean a great deal to me. My choice of career is utterly ridiculous and unstable and emotionally demanding. I honestly don’t think I’d have got to where I am at the moment, early though it still is, if it hadn’t been for Crawf’s presence, wisdom and unflagging friendship over the last half a decade. He’s backed every project, come to every performance (that I’ve invited him to), and was my first point of call for any ideas I had.
So right now, knowing all of that is about to change profoundly, I feel desperately sad.
But, watching this all finally end so soon after turning 28, I think that I also finally feel very much like an adult. You’re my best friend, Crawf – thanks for helping me get here.
After what was quite an intense and emotionally draining week, I found myself a bit of a mess. Counting back through my calendar, I realised it’d been more than a month and a half since I’d have a day off. I’m not quite sure how I’d let that happen…partially the freelancing life does lend itself to this masochistic drive: “If I’m not working, what the hell else am I doing that’s worthwhile?”. I was knackered, cranky, starting to hate writing, and the quality of my output was dropping rapidly. I was becoming a bit of a “wah-wah” writer. I needed to get the heck out of London.
So I went home for the first time since Christmas. It’s technically still in London, but we’ll skip over that. Since my parents and grandparents are off on their jollies, there was nobody about, it was just me. “Superb!” I thought. What a joy this’ll be: A riveting book, some wine, and the place to myself. So bloody writerly. But, somewhat inevitably, it was not the romantic, artistic retreat I hoped it would be. I’d only bought a pack of Super Noodles to eat, struggled to get the heating working, and spent a few hours clinging to an old oil heater whilst flicking through a Dashiell Hammet. Eventually I gave up all pretence, cracked open a Fosters and watched Arsenal vs. Bayern instead. My sister came back and offered to take me to visit my cousin sister (We’re all very close so I think of them both as sisters). I nearly turned it down, thinking I should be all Byronic about my evening. Luckily I did not, since this fella was waiting for me there:
Everything you’ve heard from the internet is true, people – no matter your woes, playing with a kitten for an hour or so will cheer you right up. More so than that though, spending time with my sisters like I used to reminded me a little of being younger…less stressed, less selfish, less pretentious, less of a dick in general. They were so pleased to see me it made me wonder how I could ever have neglected my family as heavily as I have in the last couple of years.
Especially since I really admire both my sisters (cousin and actual). They’re both remarkable women who’ve absolutely gone through the ringer and emerged damaged, yes, but strengthened, driven and impossibly loving. Their ability to be hard-headed yet remain compassionate when facing adversity inspires me in the same way my grandparents’ battle to establish themselves in this country does. Any bit of discipline and drive I have comes from realising that writing for a living is a privilege that I need to be worthy of when people like my sisters have struggled far more than I ever have.
It was good to come home and back to a reality and humanity that I used to connect with so deeply. I should do it more. (Though I probably won’t).
Appropriate music klaxon:
If George Orwell had taken a cue from his essay about what the perfect pub would be like and one day sat down to do the same for the perfect theatre, the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre would be pretty close I reckon.
I’ve spoken before about the Jack before but, to paraphrase, I just wanted to put down in words how wonderful life is ’cause they’re in the world. I came to know them because they put on a play of mine last year as part of their new writing festival, but I had long been looking for a local theatre in SE London to connect with and the Jack has been that for me. Kate, the Artistic Director, continues to support me and I’m extremely grateful for that help and her wise counsel.
On top of this:
1) They do great work for their area and draw in a massive local audience. Like theatre uniquely can and should.
2) They present plays that rival the quality of bigger, regularly publicly funded venues. Seriously, pretty much everything I have gone to see there has been top notch – personally, it has a better hit rate that Upstairs at the Court.
3) They’re bloody nice (and very funny) people.
They do all this operating on very, very slim margins so – and please forgive if this sounds a little mighty – if you’ve ever found any of my scripts entertaining or useful or just like to reward good people doing good work, then please do take a few seconds to sling a quid or two towards the Jack by clicking here. It’s places like them that keep people like me going and every penny goes to the upkeep to a model theatre that does SE London proud. Better yet, get down and see a show. Let me know what – I’ll come with.
Cheers. I’ll be quiet now.