It is with great regret that I have decided to leave my little boat. In the early hours of New Years Day, I stood at a bus stop in Hackney and counted down the minutes until I could remove my heels. As I peered down the road for the 277, I thought about the year which had just passed and the year ahead. I will turn thirty this year, and like most women about to hit that milestone birthday, I considered the things I wanted to achieve.
Some women who are about to hit this age may decide that they want certain things. A few realise that they want to get serious about their careers or they think that maybe now is the time to have a baby. Some chicks think that maybe it’s time to put an end to casual sex and that really they should be having a more adult approach to relationships instead of just hitting the Phoenix on a Saturday night with nothing but an Oyster card, a toothbrush and a spare pair of pants. Or if they can afford it, there are ladies who decide that it is now appropriate to stop playing the renting game and get together a deposit and actually buy somewhere.
I have decided I want a flushing toilet. And to not feel the need to go to bed wearing a life jacket during seventy mile per hour winds.
When I first moved on to the boat, I thought that any Future Gentleman Friends would find my way of life unusual, exotic and bohemian. But the reality is that there is nothing arousing or seductive about explaining to a man that they need to go outside to the Facilities Block to use the toilet. And before you know it your Future Gentleman Friend is a Past Gentleman Friend who is seeing a six foot Brachiosaurus with tits like Eggs Benedict and an en suite.
Anyway, once I had made the decision to leave, I realised that this meant packing up all of my belongings. Again. So out came the heavy duty bin liners and I decided that I needed to be ruthless when it came to chucking stuff away. It was time to lose some baggage.
At the bottom of my wardrobe were several storage boxes. One was full of belts and scarves, one was full of other accessories, and two were full of Press Night cards. I sat in the middle of my futon and got on with the task of lightening my load. I filled up the bin liners with polka dot headscarves and studded belts. Along with glow in the dark headbands which no longer glowed, a pair of sequinned gloves and some handcuffs.
After half a bottle of Merlot my two boxes of unnecessary tat eventually became just half a box of things which may come back into fashion one day. And after having second thoughts and a quick rummage in a bin liner I chucked the handcuffs back in there too.
Benedict Tits might have legs like a gazelles and an en suite wet room but I have handcuffs and an open mind.
So then I started on the two boxes of cards, trinkets and signed programmes. Before I knew it an entire hour had passed and I was sat surrounded by half the stock of Paperchase and more ‘Thank You’s’ than an acceptance speech at the Oscar’s.
At the top of the first box there were cards I had received recently. I sipped my wine and grinned at the messages. There was a tiny miniature grand piano which I had only received last week, and a whole heap of other cards full of the usual ‘Thanks for all your work!!!’, ‘Here’s to a great run!!!’
But there are some other cards which are slightly more unusual. One is simply a photo of a child’s bouncy ball which immediately triggers a strong memory. This ball became the source of great pleasure during one rehearsal process as we, the entire company, started every day with a lengthy group game of Keepy-Uppy . And to give the director credit, this did admittedly help us all bond and get our energy up at the start of a brand new rehearsal day. The morning games of Keep-Uppy would become slightly competitive and if you dropped the ball then you would be on the receiving end of some chummy abuse. I somehow gained the nickname ‘Tranny Hands’ which is weird as my hands are unusually small and I can only assume that this was part of the joke. But putting this game into our routine did help us all work together as a group and when I look at this photo of a ball with the message on the back (‘Jess, Thanks for all the hard work done with your massive hands’) it really makes me grin.
Sadly, the play only got two star reviews and was described as ‘hollow’, ‘formulaic’ and ‘predictable’. But who gives a crap when you’re making friends and keeping a ball off the ground for a good twenty minutes?
There were other beautiful cards which made me very happy that I had made the decision to hoard these bits of paper. For instance, I unearthed a Get Well Soon card signed by Sir Derek Jacobi when I caught mumps. He wrote a sweet message about how he hoped I felt better soon and left his sweeping signature. Sadly another actor, who is now Actually Quite Famous, had also signed the card but had written a rather rude message about my swellings and how parts of his anatomy were also swollen. Not only did I find it rather vulgar but also quite surprising. If you have the opportunity to share a card with Sir Derek Jacobi, you would think you'd find something other than your cock to write about. But that’s actors for you.
Actually, the more cards I read, the more I noticed how many included innuendo and double meanings. Like one from when I did ‘The 39 Steps’ and cued the show from a box. Throughout the run I endured many salacious comments about my ‘box’ and one card reminded me of this.
‘Thanks Jess! How many steps are there to YOUR box!!! LOL!’
Several other cards also had ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ double entendre type messages inside. But others were less subtle.
‘Dear Jess!! Will miss your big tits!!’
So I continued to rummage through that first box and found many cards and little keepsakes that reminded me of shows and actors from the past year or so. But when I opened the second box and started to rifle through the cards, I began to feel a sense of confusion. My memories felt muddied and I don’t think it was just the half bottle of wine.
Well, a whole bottle of wine.
And a small Port.
There was one which had a picture of a pot-bellied pig on the front and inside was written the words,
‘Jess! Remind you of someone? HA HA HA!!! Love Charlotte x’
I looked at the picture on the front and realised that it didn’t remind me of anything. I couldn’t even remember Charlotte. Who the hell was she? And why would a pot-bellied pig make me laugh? Did we have a private (and probably quite size-ist) joke about another company member? There was no date or play title written within the card and as I toyed with it in my fingers, my eyes rested on the bin liner.
Unable to shove the pig card in with the other unloved accessories and out of date Durex packs, I decided to just keep it to one side. I was struggling to bring myself to completely discard messages which had, at one point, probably meant something.
There was one card, however, in the depths of the second box, which I did remember. It was from someone called Dave (that’s not his real name). Inside the card was the name of the show, the date of the Press Night and his full name. Along with the message;
‘Jess, Hope you have a wonderful Press Night and looking forward to getting to know you on tour.’
Sadly, myself and Dave did got to know each other on tour. He learnt that I had no time for actors with a poisonous attitude and a punctuality issue. And I learnt that he was a cunt. I considered his card for a while. Despite the fact that I had (and still) despised him and his horrific behaviour, it was still intriguing to get a glimpse of a time when we had obviously made the effort to purchase a card and write something sweet within it.
Even as I looked at the handwriting of a man I detested, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to throw it away having hung on to it for so long. So I laid it on top of the Mysterious Charlotte’s card and continued digging through the rest of my theatrical artefacts, silently munching on some Love Hearts I had found buried under a party invite.
The Charlotte/Dave pile started to get bigger as I uncovered more and more messages containing references I didn’t remember from names which meant absolutely nothing. Most of them were just standard Press Night messages because, let’s be honest, nobody writes what they really think in Press Night cards. Otherwise mine would say stuff like,
You are very good in the play but still paraphrasing lots in Scene Two. Have a wonderful Press Night and here’s to the rest of the run.
P.S. You have ‘borrowed’ a million pencils off me and I want them back please. I am a Stage Manager. Not a portable branch of Rymans.’
As the minutes passed by and my feelings of sentimentality seeped away, I decided that the most obvious thing to do was to pour these scrawling into my bin liner. Keeping this crap was not going to improve my life, help me to remember these people or get me a flushing toilet.
However, right at the bottom, my nails brushed across a glittery card with the standard ‘Thank You’ emblazoned across the front in swirly writing. I pulled it out and saw that it was from somebody called Michael. Again, the card did not contain the name of the play or the date and for the life of me I could not remember a Michael. But I read his words anyway. And for a few moments afterwards I just sat in the gloom. My legs were crossed beneath me and my hands cradled the wine glass. I stayed like that for some time. Just taking in Michael’s words and thinking that it must have been one of the first cards I had ever saved. Over ten years ago I had taken the decision to not recycle it or throw it away and had instead kept it in a box where other cards would eventually pile on top of it. Entombing it and preserving it simultaneously.
I know that we all write Press Night messages that we don’t necessarily mean, but Michael wrote something so genuine and unaffected that, even all this time later, it still made me feel that somebody had really appreciated me. To type out what Michael had written would be slightly self-indulgent and incredibly wanky. So I’ll just keep his words to myself.
I took the decision to place all of my cards back in the boxes, despite the fact they take up space I don’t have. I may not remember the well-wishers but they are all people I have worked with at some point and if they have taken the trouble to think of me, then who am I to instantly disregard them.
So no cards went into my bin liner.
Except for Dave’s.
(He really was a cunt.)
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