So now I’m in the second week of rehearsals for my next play. During Week One, the cast, director and DSM have mostly been sat around the table ripping the play to shreds. And I’m not speaking metaphorically. Sting would be freaking out if he could see that we were racing through the equivalent of a small rainforest on a daily basis as the play is re worked and re written and turned into paper aeroplanes which are sent across the room by fatigued actors.
But while the cast, director and DSM go on a voyage of discovery within the walls of the Rehearsal Room, Production Manager and I are racing round trying to locate all of our necessary props and furniture.
A lot of Stage Managers these days will sit at their desks and flick from Ebay to Twitter to Gumtree to Facebook. But that’s just not my style. I like to visit car boot sales at nine in the morning and queue with scores of other bargain hunters for hidden treasures in the Car Parks of Stadiums. I like to go to Smithfields Market on a Thursday morning and buy a bacon sandwich and a cappuccino from the little stand in the corner. I like to talk to the people who run the stalls and I like to take their cards and haggle with them over footstools from the seventies and corroded old garden tools. I like to look at the tables, teeming with vintage costume jewellery and tarnished cigarette cases and I like the young Australian man who runs the second hand book stall.
I like him best of all.
I don’t own a car and nor do I possess the ability to drive. So I have to make do with the next best thing. A shopping trolley. Like what little old ladies have except mine isn’t tartan. It’s not an amazing trendy one either. It cost me ten quid from Shepherd’s Bush Market and is probably the best tenner I ever spent. During the day I trundle around London with my trolley, picking up props from car boot sales and markets and trying not to hit people around the ankles.
I love my trolley. Although Production Manager does not share my sentiments.
‘You look a right twat pulling that around.’
He probably has a point.
Another reason why I am more than happy to leave my desk and go out finding props is that I genuinely love the tube.
Well, in the middle of the day I love the tube, when it’s quiet and there are whole carriages which are vacant. When I first moved to London, I found it such an adventure to work out the best route to my destination and decide which little coloured lines to follow. And I still do. When I realised that so much of my job would be spent on the Underground, I checked some stuff out online and discovered some facts about the ‘hidden underground’.
When you pass between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn on the Central Line, you can peer out of the window and see an empty and disused ‘ghost station’. It’s the old British Museum tube station and hasn’t been used since 1932. But it’s still there and completely intact. All of the tiles and the signs and the doorways. And on the Piccadilly Line between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner there is a completely bricked up tube station which used to be Down Street tube station. That also hasn’t been used for nearly seventy years and I still like to look out of the window for it.
Again, Production Manager does not share my enthusiasm for these secret train stations.
‘Jesus. You really do need to get a life.’
For this show I need an old wall mounted bathroom cabinet. I have presented Designer with endless images of bathroom cabinets from E bay and whilst at car boot sales I have taken photos on my iPhone and texted them straight over. All of them have been met with a negative (sometimes slightly disgusted) response. Once I got a text which simply read ‘REALLY?’
However, after a week of searching I have found a cabinet which Designer just adores. It is cheap and second hand and I located it on Gumtree. It is pick-up only which means that my trolley and I need to make a trip to Dollis Hill in North London to visit a lady called Lesley. We have exchanged chatty e mails and texts and arranged a time on a Tuesday afternoon for me to visit her and pick up the cabinet.
I make my way to Dollis Hill on the Jubilee Line and manage to locate Lesley’s address using The Little Blue Dot on my iPhone. I used to pack a battered A to Z in my shopping trolley but now, like many other Londoners, I navigate the streets of this city with my nose practically pressed to a tiny screen, loyally following my Little Blue Dot.
She lives in a large semi-detached house about a minute’s walk from the tube and has a gravel driveway just large enough to house a brand new Micra. I ring the brass doorbell and it’s not long before the weighty blue door is pulled open. Lesley looks to be in her late fifties with short, ash-blonde hair and she is expensively dressed; head to toe in casual Whistles and Jaeger and Monsoon. She ushers me in to the hallway which smells of Jo Malone candles, Chanel Number 5 and Shake N’ Vac. Her stature is short with a petite figure but her generous bosom pulls at the material of her shirt. There is a slight sheen of sweat covering her face and she is breathless, her chest rapidly rising and falling.
‘Come in!’ she exclaims, ‘You must excuse me. I’ve been on the Wii Fit.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry to bother you. I’ll just grab the cabinet and....’
‘No, no. Come on in.’
I smile and follow her into her large kitchen which has counters full of shining and expensive appliances. It’s one of those kitchens where any white goods such as the fridge or the washing machine or the dishwasher have been hidden from view and everything just has the same solid, cupboard door.
I don’t understand why the middle classes are suddenly so ashamed to admit they own fridges. As somebody who has toured the country and stayed in a vast variety of digs, I personally hate these kitchens and despise having to open ten different doors in a desperate battle to locate the milk. Especially at three in the morning when my inebriated state means I struggle to remember which doors I have already tried and I end up going round in circles for five minutes before giving up and eating my dry Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes straight out of a bowl with my hands, softly crying and remembering my own childhood home where the fridge was not only easy to find but took pride of place in the living room.
I realised that Lesley was looking at me expectantly. And I saw that it was not a normal coffee pot that she was gesturing towards but one of those fancy coffee machines which look like little farmyard animals. I’ve never had a coffee from one of those so I jumped up onto a Heals kitchen stool and said yes, I would love a coffee. I don’t make a habit of hanging around in middle-aged ladies houses (except my mother’s) drinking luxury coffee. But she is open and friendly and I don’t fancy the idea of clambering back onto a tube carriage straight away.
She chattered away to me while she busied herself getting chunky white cups and saucers and spoons. The cupboard doors don’t slam and the drawers all slow down just before the point of impact so that they close softly. Not only do we like to hide the existence of our fridges but we also like to pretend that wooden objects don’t slam shut.
Lesley asked me why I needed the cabinet.
‘It’s for a play.’
‘Oh! The theatre! My husband would have liked that. He loved the theatre.’ She turns round to face me. ‘He bought that bathroom cabinet when we married, thirty years ago. But he passed away last year. I had the bathroom done last month so am just getting rid of stuff.’
‘I’m sorry to hear about your husband.’ I say in a solemn voice.
‘Oh, that’s alright my love,’ she chirps, ‘He was ill for a very long time. Sugar?’
She approaches the farmyard animal coffee machine which cheerfully vomits thick, brown liquid into the cup which she is holding under its puckered 'mouth'. She then places the cup and saucer in front of me and asks me about the play. I find myself dutifully repeating the blurb on the back of our leaflets.
‘Maybe you could come and see it? See your bathroom cabinet?’ I suggest.
‘No, I won’t. I hate the theatre,’ she tells me abruptly, ‘Sitting in uncomfortable seats for hours at a time while people shout at you? Oh no. It was only my husband, my husband who loved the theatre. And my son too.’
I can’t help but laugh at her open and honest description of the industry in which I have devoted the last ten years of my life to and she laughs aswell.
‘My son might come to see it. He’s about your age. There’s a photo of him there.’ She points to a picture which hangs on the wall behind me. I admire her son who is, admittedly, very handsome. He’s leaning against a low metal railing with his hands in his pockets and grinning at the camera, obviously fond of the photographer. He has Lesley’s big brown eyes.
‘Yes, ask him to come and see it,’ I politely offer.
‘I will do. Although I don’t think you’re his type. He likes them blonde. Blonde and skinny.’
I momentarily struggle to keep the smile on my face, although Lesley doesn’t notice and carries on.
‘He’s left now though of course. Moved in with friends. I asked him if he wanted that bathroom cabinet but he said no. He said it reminded him of being a teenager, of spending hours in the bathroom trying to do something with his hair and looking at his acne.’ She giggles. ‘He was permanently locked in that bathroom. My husband would be banging on the door at all hours of the day.’
I laugh too. ‘Well, if your son likes the theatre, let me know and I can sort him out a ticket.’
‘Yes. I will do.’
Lesley smiles at me. ’But it was really Daniel, my husband, who loved the theatre. He took me to see a play when we had been together for a few months. It was dreadful. Something tragic and romantic in the West End. I felt like it lasted for hours. But in the final scene, the leading man turned round to the actress playing his lover and said ‘We love people for either a reason, a season, or a lifetime’.’
A reason, a season, or a lifetime.
Lesley’s eyes have drifted away from my face and she is staring just over my shoulder.
‘When Daniel took me to my home and we talked about the play, he talked about that line. And then the next day he proposed. Because he said he knew that he loved me for more than a reason or a season.’
She brings her eyes back to meet mine.
‘He said that he knew that he would love me for a lifetime.’
She clears her throat.
‘A few months later we got married and we bought that bathroom cabinet with some vouchers we got given as a wedding gift. It’s been in our bathroom ever since.’
She sniffs loudly and takes a gulp from her cup, obviously slightly embarrassed to have shared so much with a total stranger. I resolutely concentrate on my coffee.
‘Would you like to see the cabinet?’ she trills overly brightly.
‘Yes. Yes please.’
She takes me into the front room where the cabinet is stood in a corner. It’s small and cream with a round oval mirror in the door.
‘I’m glad it’s going to a good home,’ she says enthusiastically, ‘I don’t need the money but I like to see these things go to a good home. It’s fun to meet people and to use E bay and jumble sales and Gumbush.’
I don’t correct her. Instead I give her the money and thank her for the coffee and head back to the Jubilee Line where a train swiftly rushes me a hundred miles an hour away from expensive kitchens and dead, missed husbands.
On the way back, the train passes through the echoing, abandoned British Museum tube station and slows down although it doesn’t halt completely. The few people I share the carriage with are too engrossed in their Ipods and Metros’s and Dan Brown books to notice our ethereal surroundings
I look out of the window at the disused station and I think about a young man who, in the early eighties, pledged to love a girl for an entire lifetime after simply seeing a play. I look down at my shopping trolley and think about how the item contained within has spent thirty years in a family bathroom and how the oval mirror has reflected the face of a baby boy and watched him grow from acne covered teenager to striking young man. And I think about a widow who drinks luxurious coffee and spends rainy Tuesday afternoons playing on her Wii Fit, waiting for strangers to come by and give her money she doesn’t need in return for an object she no longer wants.
An everyday object which has spent a lifetime as part of somebody’s home and which will now spend several weeks being nailed to a set and admired by audience members before being casually discarded into a skip along with other bits of furniture and walls which are only painted on one side.
Eventually, the train speeds up again and we leave the British Museum station. I pull my ‘Heat’ magazine out of my handbag and read about Danni Minogue and Louis Spence for the rest of the journey.
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