Tony Bell: Diary of a Gossip Week Seven: A Big Plane to the Big Apple

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

Okay so I haven’t blogged for a few weeks, a few venues, and a few cities, but I’ll go back and write the ones I’ve missed when I hit the five star hotel room I’m headed for. That’s if I can remember what happened. The memory isn’t what it used to be. Like skin elasticity, tolerance of cheap mattresses, and hope of a film career, it fades with age.

So here I am, flying across the Cirrus Nimbus of International Travel, turning my attention from the ‘Gandhi’ re-run on the tiny screen fitted into the back of the seat in front of me, attempting something less passive, and more aggressive, with my time, (I would say “more creative” if I wasn’t hitting these laptop keys so hard). I’m not very relaxed at the moment. The man behind me won’t stop coughing, my blocked sinuses are putting extra pressure on my eardrums, and I’ve seen ‘Gandhi’ three times since it premiered at the Odeon, Lancaster in 1982, so I know the story. It’s quite an epic, about as long as the director’s Oscar Speech that year, and my attention span isn’t what it used to be. As you know I’ve been really lazy about writing recently, but I just saw Chris answering his copious ‘Councillor Kennedy’ emails when I went for a pee in the fold-away toilet. For a moment middle-class guilt out fought middle-aged angst, and I started unblocking the muse.

It’s not all laziness. The double techs for Richard and Comedy, and then the double matinee days, means I only really have one day to write. And when it comes to that free Friday there’s something stopping me being honest and opening up about how I’ve been feeling. I’m like Egeon, the aging father in “Comedy of Errors”, forever procrastinating my “lifeless end.” The cities are different, as are the audiences, and the quality of duvet cover, but the feeling gnawing at my soul remains the same. Forest threatening volumes of Boots receipts are being accumulated from branches across the UK, for fifty seven varieties of anti-wrinkle moisturizer. It’s putting an unnecessary strain on my wallet, and my “expenses” shoebox. Yes, folks, I’m growing old, and I’m in a state about it - about sagging jowls, crows-feet, and muffin-tops that are not of the Starbucks variety. Get over yourself, that’s what your saying, isn’t it? It was your ninth fortieth birthday last Thursday, and face the truth mate, you’re not King Canute, you can’t stick your finger in the dam and stem the tide. It happens to all of us. It’s the journey of life, so grow up and grow old gracefully.

But I can’t. I can’t accept that I’m on the downhill run. In the gap between the Saturday matinee and the evening performance of Richard in Cheltenham, I was consumed with a vision of that Dorian Gray picture falling off my damp-proofed wall in East Dulwich, then shattering against the painted floorboards. This may have been caused by the surprise visit of an ex-Watermill colleague who noticed how young Dougie still looked, (it’s what isn’t said that cuts the deepest), or perhaps it was a reaction to the clear skin and youthful enthusiasm of the A-level theatre students with whom I shared after show tapas. These events won’t have helped, but my Dylan Thomasesque “dying light” crisis was surely started by the comments in the local press about my sparkler antics. In Norwich, or was it Edinburgh, I was described as “a portly, middle-aged nudist.” In Manchester, or was it Norwich, they described me as an “aging naked evangelist,” and in Cheltenham - it was definitely Cheltenham for I will never forget that fine Gloucestershire Friday - the write-up began with: “Enter a fat, streaking man.” A pithy soundbite, I think you’ll agree.

So what to do about it? I could eat what I liked, which is what I did in Manchester, because for me finding a meat and potato pie shop is like visiting Anfield for Tam and Bob, or Twickenham for Richard – an event of adrenalin-fuelled significance. There was a “Greg’s” bakery shop a saliva trail from my digs, and another near The Lowry, so I punctuated the monotonous bus ride with two pies, two adrenalin shots, and the sweat of guilt. That was before the show. Afterwards, there was one of those all-night-stay-open-and-sell-anything-as-long-as-it’s-kebab-pizza-or-chips-and-cheese joints at the bus terminus. I alternated between all three, or is it four, options, and after the two show day treated myself to a starter and a main.

Like I said I could eat what I liked, and grow old gracefully, and fattily, or I could stop the rot. There was a seven pounds a day steam and swim gym at the Lowry Shopping Outlet, and on the Friday the Thursday night pizza and chips feast had made me feel sufficiently bad about myself to get the wallet out, and put on the goggles. I got stuck at reception and didn’t make it to the pool that day because Sky TV was showing England lose to Bangledesh in the last over of the Cricket World Cup. However, on the Saturday I came in early, swam twenty lengths, and for twenty minutes in the steam room listened to a fatter and more Northern man describe the trials of single parenthood until my body, or was it my mind, couldn’t stand it any longer. Apparently, all teenage Mancunian females want to see Justin Beiber in concert, and he can’t stop his ex-wife paying for his daughter to go with four friends into the heart of Liverpool unsupervised. He told Kelly, his daughter, (not his ex-wife, he didn’t say her name), he disapproved, and now she, (Kelly not his ex-wife), won’t speak to him, or visit him ever again. It may be that she had an issue with his parenting, but it may also be that he has difficulty completing a sentence without swear words in it. Anyway, after this first toe in the water I’m ready to face any amount of excruciating anecdotage to fight the flab.

We’ve arrived at JFK so I have to sign off now. We’ve a day off tomorrow actually, and I could do something touristy like strolling through Central Park, or watching Spiderman the Musical, or buying box sets of Calvin Klein pants in the Century 21 outlet store, but I’ve been in the Big Apple that many times before, mostly with Propeller, I’d rather visit the gym, try thirty lengths, then sit quietly and catch up on blogging. I wonder what kind of men go to the Gym in America?

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