Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Duke Wellington

In the same week that I saw Neil Gaiman, I surprisingly returned to London for reasons that upon contemplation elude me. Nevertheless, I was there, and this happened.

I had gone with my father and his... Girlfriend? Concubine? I've never been entirely sure how to phrase this, but at least that should give you an idea of the relationship. And also her son. First, we had gone to the theatre in order for my father and his mistress to essentially 'audition' their production of a play to the director of the theatre in order to get a venue to perform in. After which, we went o a restaurant that served what can only be described as a n ungodly amount of meat. From here, we split off.

The Woman Who Happens To Be Seeing My Father and her son went off to see Les Misérables. The stage version, not the film version. I, having no interest in ever seeing such a long musical, went with my father to the cinema instead, where we passed the time in a gentlemanly fashion viewing World War Z.

The film over, we still had much time to wait for Les Mis to finish. Our initial plan was to retreat to the car, wait there, then pick them up once the show was over and retire homeward again. However, father realised that he did not actually have the car keys upon his persons. We were, essentially stranded.

Not to worry. The interval was coming soon, and we figured we could catch them at the interval, get the keys, and continue with the initial plan. While we waited, we decided to retire to the nearest pub we could find on the Shaftesbury Avenue.

We quickly found around the corner called The Duke Wellington, a pub that despite looking as busy as a supermarket at Christmas we slipped into with relative ease. We go inside, get as close to the bar as possible and get two pints of beer.

I noticed something was odd. In our rush to get beer, we had not taken note of the fact that my father and I had in fact entered a gay pub by accident. In fact, we merrily had our drinks in our hand when it suddenly dawned on us that the majority of the clientele were male. Looking up the pub on Google Maps reveals that in street view at the time the picture was taken, there was a sign hanging over the corner entrance advertising popular gay dating app, Grindr.

This struck us both as uproariously hilarious. We went outside to where it was cooler, and stood amongst what we had first mistook as a queue to get inside, drinking our pints and discussing the matters of the day until such a time where we could retrieve the car keys.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Scary Trousers

I am, in many ways, very lucky. By a freak of genetics, I am actually not a hideous monstrosity of a human being. By a quirk of brain matter, I am actually an intelligent, if astoundingly naive, fellow. I also have a weirdly good knack of meeting people I am a big fan of, usually writers. This came to a head when, last night, I met Neil 'Scary Trousers' Gaiman.

I had been looking forward to this event for a long time. I somehow fluked getting myself a ticket and got a pretty good seat, pretty much the centre of the stalls. The ticket also entitled me to a signed copy of his latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane (I am currently a hundred pages in and it is making me emotional about things I had long since forgotten - or buried - since childhood in a wonderful and melancholic way), but my main joy was to see Scary Trousers himself.

I waited outside for the doors to open at six, and was pretty much the second person through the door. I saw the mountain of books (a literal mountain - I like the image of finishing a book being similar to climbing a mountain: this made it somewhat more literal), and quickly purchased my copy.

I now had a choice. I could go to the bar, buy a drink and start reading, or head to the auditorium, find my seat, and start reading. Either way, I was going to be reading, and it would be wonderful. As I had only just come from a pub opposite the British Museum anyway, I felt I could skip the drink and head straight into the theatre.

There were five other people in there. Two women sitting near the back, another on the left hand side and a couple to the frontish right side. And there on stage was Claire Armistead and Neil Gaiman performing a sound test.

I had brought my camera with me on the off chance, the improbability that such an opportunity may arise, and here it was. Neil was less than fifty yards away, checking his mic with such witticisms as 'I am talking, I am talking, I am still talking and now I am rambling,' white I had his new book, a camera and the urge to at least get some proof of having been there.

So, naturally when faced with meeting an idol, I sat down and quietly idolised him further.

The mic test finished, he left the stage. Not through the back into the wings you understand - off the front steps, and through the auditorium in my general direction.

Well, might as well.

I grabbed my camera and walked over to intercept them, like the spy from Stratego, though not nearly as debonair.

'Hi,' I squeaked. 'Would you mind if I grabbed a photo?'

'No, of course not,' said Neil. He's so dreamy.

After a brief kerfuffle with the camera, Claire Armistead took the picture. He asked my name, and I told him (thank goodness it is only a single syllable). We checked to see if the picture was okay, and Neil made a crack about his hair not looking it's best. Having only recently had mine shaved for Art, I replied that mine was not much in a better position, and he disappeared. Or I may have blinked for a very long time.


I return to my seat and now positively vibrating. I text my friends the event and start to read my new book. I get to about Chapter 3 (it is a very quick, digestible read, to its credit), just as the auditorium is filled and he reappears on stage to talk about future Neverwhere stories, colour blind Daleks and of course, The Ocean at the end of the Lane. He was of course, wonderful. And a very weird thing happened, purely by coincidence.

I stopped reading at page 35, just as Neil came on stage and we applauded. When Claire asked him to read an extract, Neil jumped at the chance and read from a bit he had not yet read aloud yet in what must be a long, hard book tour. It was from exactly where I had finished reading. I had the pleasure of having Neil Gaiman read the next bit of the story to me in his wonderful, Neil Gaiman-y way.

Claire Armitstead is not a natural photographer

One final thing. A friend of mine on the same day, funnily enough the same for whom I had my head shaved, was going to Disneyland for a few days. Many years ago, when I was first reading Sandman, she was the first person with whom I shared my new favourite comic book, and when she did her study on comic book art I supplied her with everything but Sandman, simply as I couldn't bear to part with my collection for a few months. Just before the talk was to begin, I receive a text from her. Here is the following exchange:
Her: I'm going to have my picture taken with Mickey Mouse!
It was like the quickest game of Top Trumps ever.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

For Art

There comes a point in many a man’s life when he must go bald. For many, it comes later in life; for some unfortunates, it comes early. I took mine by choice. For Art.

It began two weeks before the actual event. It was at a point where I had too much hair: it was unruly, messy, and though as a student it made little difference to the outside world, its length was beginning to annoy me. I was considering getting it cut to an acceptable length again.

Out of the blue, I receive a text from my best friend. It was an odd request. She was in the process of creating her final art installation for her Foundation course, and was curious as to whether I’d be willing to help. As she is my best friend in the world, I was immediately up for it.

She proceeds to explain her pitch. It’s a short video segment, inspired by a David Mamet play called Vikings and Darwin, with overtones of 1984 as well. It would feature me repeating a few choice phrases from the play in the midst of being tortured.

What larks.

I press for more details, and she’s a bit… vague. It’s clear that though she has ideas, she’s not sure how far she can push it. She reels off a list of things she would like to do: water-boarding, shave my head, blindfold me…
I latch onto the shaving. It strikes me as a great money saving opportunity. We arrange a date when we’re both available.

I meet her in town, ready to get shaved up. We go to her sister’s flat, who fortunately is never in and I believe still has no idea to this day what happened there. We film the first bit, pre-shaving, with my screaming at the camera various phrases. We then wait for another friend to arrive with his clippers. She asks one last time if I’m sure.

I’m not afraid to say it hurt a little. As I was playing a renegade of the state, my hair was not exactly neat. As the clippers cut through my hair, it yanked and pulled its way through knots and tangles, pulling on my scalp and making my eyes water, for half an hour, by which time my head is very cold and the batteries are running down on the clippers. I am grateful they did not run out before the job was done.

Next we filmed the water-boarding sequence, where my head is dunked in the water and I have to gasp choice phrases. It was all very safe, and I was in complete control the whole time.

What a jolly soul I am.

Job done, with around an hour’s footage, we retire to the pub for a few pints.

The weeks pass, and I regularly text my friend to see what progress is being made. According to her, it’s very effective. I withhold my judgement. Yet what happens next certainly raises my expectations.

Before the piece is put on for public display, it is marked by her tutors and seen by her friends and colleagues on the course. Many of them cried.