Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes bad things happen to people like me; predominantly good but fairly bitchy and often forgets birthdays.
Okay, so I don’t always stand up on the tube for old people because I am tired from dragging my old lady shopping trolley around and my Vivienne Westwood flats are rubbing. But I don’t commit crimes or hurt people. Not on purpose anyway. If you get in the way when I’m pulling my old lady shopping trolley and I clip you round the ankles, that’s your own stupid fault, not mine.
But yes, I believe that I am generally a ‘good’, law-abiding person but I am certainly not naive enough to believe that everybody else in the world is just like me. I am more than aware that the world is also inhabited by total scumbags. I sit in front of my TV when I get home at night with a bottle of wine and happily watch episode after episode of ‘Road Wars’ and make negative judgements on all of the people on it whilst being reassured of my own law-abiding goodness. It’s practically a hobby.
But it’s still a shock when you come face to face with a ‘bad’ person. And I am talking about an actual ‘ bad’ person. I’m talking about the ‘bad’ people who I got told about at primary school via the magic of eighties public information films. In those films there were ‘bad’ people who tried to lure children into the backs of Ladas with the promise of some sweets or the chance to see some puppies. I guess eighties kids were easily pleased. These days the ‘bad’ people would need to drive a Renault Megane and own an IPod complete with Angry Birds for a ten year old to even consider getting into the back.
And then I got older and went to an all girls Secondary School where retired police officers turned up and told us about ‘bad’ people who also wanted to get us into the backs of cars. The policeman would never go into detail about why these men wanted to get girls in school uniform into the backs of their vehicles. They tended to just mumble something about shouting ‘Fire’ before handing out free rape alarms.
I have also dealt with ‘bastards’ (ex boyfriends who corrected my grammar and raised their eyebrows when I ordered dessert) and I have dealt with ‘badly behaved’ people (actors who were constantly late for the half and hid pornographic images amongst the props on a kids show) but they weren’t bad people, although I question the motives of somebody who feels the need to look at porn while standing about two feet away from a hundred twelve year olds.
But none of these people were truly ‘bad’ and certainly not capable of causing another person to feel fear. The ‘bastards’ simply made me feel that I wanted to be single again and the ‘badly behaved’ actors just made me feel the need to phone up friends who were also Casting Agents and have a little chat. Seriously, if you have ever really pissed off a stage manager and then your auditions have dried up, it ain’t no coincidence.
A couple of weeks ago I came home at about one o clock in the morning after an evening with my sister. I was looking forward to a quick half hour of ‘Night Cops’ before bedtime and skipped happily into my abode, only to discover a ‘bad’ man in my living room. He was rummaging through my belongings and it only took me a moment to realise that my laptop was not where I had left it. The bottle of red wine which was running through my veins dulled my senses and prevented me from panicking. (See, wine is a good thing.)
I know that I am not the first person in the world to interrupt a burglar but I am almost certain that I am the first person to interrupt one with the words ‘Excuse me. Can I help you?’
The burglar didn’t seem to be too distressed by my presence but then I doubt anybody would be that alarmed by the presence of a 5’3” girl clutching a doggy bag of left over pizza and swaying slightly. On closer inspection, I realised that the intruder was actually not much taller than me and was just a bloke in his mid-thirties with a saggy belly and droopy, loose flesh on his arms. As he acknowledged me I noticed that he too was swaying slightly. I assumed that this was also due to booze and correctly ascertained that he was definitely more intoxicated than I was.
Once I was certain that the drunken little twit was not that capable of hurting me, I decided that I really wanted my stuff back, especially my laptop. I was in the final week of rehearsals before we went into Tech Week and everything was on that laptop. Setting lists, running lists, costume plots and paper prop templates. Tech Weeks are difficult and stressful enough without some fat loser nicking my laptop.
I did try to prevent him leaving but my efforts proved pretty fruitless. He may have been short but he was a fat, solid lump and his halitosis alone meant I was kept a good foot away. I know it sounds like a ridiculous thing to say but I was most disturbed by his pure ugliness. His face was pasty and pock-marked and his eyes were black and piggy. Even his nose didn’t sit in the middle of his face and seemed pushed to one side. His mouth hung slack and he seemed to be sneering at me.
Soon we were both outside my property and it appeared that he was going to escape into the night with my things, leaving my Tech Week ruined and my living room in chaos. The chubby little prick had even knocked over my large hole punch and the floor was now covered in tiny white paper circles.
I made a rather half-hearted attempt at blocking his path but this was met by him snarling ‘Get out of the fucking way or I’ll punch you in the fucking face.’
Obviously it was very upsetting to be spoken to like that but it did trigger something within me. Some blokes have treated me pretty badly and I have let them. But this ugly, nasty piece of vermin had entered my home without respect and then taken what was not his. To threaten me with physical violence was just one step too far and I felt frightened yet frustrated tears spill out over my cheeks.
I have no doubt that a man in my situation would grab a nearby kitchen implement, develop an American accent and say ‘I don’t think so motherfucker’. And with the correct training in Martial Arts maybe I could have rocked out some ‘Kill Bill’ moves, cleverly used my Robert Dyas pizza slicer as an offensive weapon and overpowered the ruffian.
But I am a girl and I have no training in any self-defence methods. I also haven’t carried a rape alarm with me since an embarrassing incident in C and A when I was sixteen. So I decided to do what drunk Northern girls do best.
I threw a tantrum.
The burglar had obviously never witnessed an irate, half-cut girl from the Wirral venting her frustration before (believe me, it’s a sight to behold) and looked fairly startled before he once again attempted to escape.
But my shrieks and wails had the desired effect and although the burglar tried to flee, my neighbours came to my aid. The police were called, arrived impressively quickly and then chased after him. I was disappointed that the police weren’t accompanied by a camera crew because then I could have been on ‘Night Cops’. But I did get to shout ‘He went that way!’ And then point.
The burglar was caught attempting to burgle another property and my laptop was found about his grubby, pathetic little person. I grabbed it and hugged it to my chest and it was only because I had such a large audience that I didn’t repetitively kiss it. I then turned and screamed obscenities at the burglar which didn’t help matters but it made me feel tons better. There have been a couple of moments in my life when I have felt the need to point at somebody and scream ‘YOU FUCKING CUNT!’ in their face. But those situations have usually arisen when such actions would be deemed very inappropriate, so to be given the opportunity to do just that and have my audience deem it perfectly acceptable was actually quite satisfying.
Night soon turned into dawn as I gave statements and held cups of tea which went cold. The wine evaporated from my system and was replaced with pure adrenalin which left me exhausted yet wide awake and emotional.
My incredible neighbours offered me a bed for the night as I felt uncomfortable sleeping in my abode alone. I drifted off for a couple of hours but before I knew it my alarm was going off and I took myself into work in a bedraggled and shell-shocked state. Even though he hadn’t laid a finger on me, I felt like the Rebel Without A Clue actually had punched me in the face.
It was the penultimate day of rehearsals before we started teching the show on Monday and the theatre was a hive of activity. I sat at my desk and cast my half-closed eyes over my large To Do list which suddenly seemed fairly daunting. I had made my To Do list the previous day and all of the tasks had seemed perfectly achievable. Not all of them were particularly pleasant (even when I haven’t been a victim of crime I’m still fairly unenthusiastic about approaching the political nightmare of dressing room allocations) but at the time of making the list, I had felt confident that by six pm, I would have all the items on my list ticked off and could go home to ‘Night Cops’, safe in the knowledge that everything was done and ready for the final Rehearsal Day.
But that evening I had starred in my very own episode of ‘Night Cops’ and it hadn’t been exciting or entertaining. It had been crap.
‘Jess? Could I borrow your hole punch?’ asked the costume supervisor, clutching her Wardrobe Plots.
‘No. It’s at.... home.’
I thought about where my hole punch was. Splayed open on my kitchen floor surrounded by stupid little white dots and the invisible footprints and fingerprints of a man who had blundered his way into my neat little sanctuary and tried to take away my hard earned possessions. His ugly, gurning face came into my sleep-deprived head at regular intervals during the day but I scolded myself for taking it so badly. I mean, I had not been hurt and my prized objects had been returned to me, but I still felt sad and uneasy.
Just looking at my To Do list was making me feel exhausted and I briefly thought about my bed. But as I did, I knew that I would not sleep in it that night and that I would take up the offer from good friends and accept a spare room. Just one small event and I had been reduced to somebody who could not sleep alone and needed the light left on. I was back to being a little girl and scared of the ‘bad’ man.
The stuffy and airless atmosphere in The Office was suffocating me. People offered kind words and asked if I was okay and generally I lied and said I was. Eventually I slammed my notebook shut and got out of the room, heading to the theatre itself. My ‘To Do’ List could wait. I had time left and the majority of the show was in good shape.
It was a very hot, humid day and as I stepped into the cool, dark theatre I instantly felt better. The lighting designer and technicians were doing the focus and the majority of the stage and auditorium were in darkness. I moved to a seat at the back and plonked myself next to the board operator who was sat, slouched slightly, at the lighting desk which was half buried under Pret A Manger wrappers and Tesco carrier bags. I took a large Tupperware box out of my bag and put it under his nose, watching his face light up.
I always go into Tech weeks with a large container full of Haribos, Fizzy Fish, Jelly Babies and Wine Gums. Even the grumpiest of lighting designers at nine o’clock in the evening can’t help but smile at the sudden presence of Tangtastics.
The board operator and I sat in a comfortable silence, sucking on Cola Bottles, and I turned my attention to the stage which was predominantly in darkness. I could just make out the dark figures of the Lighting Designer and Production Manager as they stood together in the centre.
‘Go into Cue 49?’ called the Lighting Designer. The board op straightened himself slightly and tapped a few buttons on the desk before leaning back again.
I took an audible intake of breathe. The set was now practically glowing and all of the furniture and props seemed to pulse slightly. Our play is set in a 1920’s bedroom and the designer and I had pored over hundreds of images so that we could capture the era and present it in this small space. A chest of drawers stood proudly stage left and on top was placed a heavy telephone. The handset rested in a gold cradle and the dial was mounted on a green and white marble base. Next to the chest of drawers rested an antique doctor’s bag. I had found it in Spitalfields market and got it for a good price. It’s leather was slightly cracked and worn but its locking mechanism was well oiled and snapped shut in a satisfying manner, something I thought an actor could have fun with.
On stage right there was a delicate dressing table covered in various paraphernalia, but my favourite tiny prop was a powder puff. Such a small detail but with it’s ivory handle and feathery, swansdown base, it set off the dressing table and you immediately understood the essence of the woman, the character, who would sit there.
‘Have you got any jelly babies?’ The Lighting Designer had perched himself on the row behind and was delving into the Tupperware box from over my shoulder.
‘Naturally,’ I replied. ‘God, it looks so..... beautiful.’
The three of us sat there for a minute, taking in the splendour of the set. I always relish these peaceful moments. On Monday I knew that the set would suddenly be filled with actors getting used to the differences between a rehearsal room and a stage but until that happened I could take some ownership of the space.
‘Sorry to hear what happened mate,’ offered the Board Operator.
‘It’s okay honey.’ I sighed.
And actually, I wasn’t lying. I had everything I needed for Tech Week and my face had not been punched or rearranged. Tech weeks are never the easiest of things to get through but this was one was not going to be made any more difficult by the slightly fateful meeting between myself and a rather unsightly man.
There will always be ugliness and unpleasantness in this world. But as I sat and looked at the stage, which I had helped to create and which many audiences would also sit and admire, I knew that as long as I was here, at my place of work, I would feel safe and secure and utterly protected.
Because in here, it’s always beautiful.
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