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Man of Steel

A long time ago, when men were men and dinosaurs ruled the earth, while Victoria Vetri was slaying those big lizards dressed (inexplicably) in a bikini I too was a servant of Thespis.

 

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No, not me! Although there might be something in the ears….

Yes, I bestrode the stage.  I was (darlings) a nactor!    

 

No, never in a bikini.

 

I would have done if somebody asked me to.  As an actor, assuming your looks fell short of the Vetri standard, you should be prepared to do anything.

 

Can you sing?

“Yes.”

Dance?

“Yes.”

Ride a horse?

“Errrm  y-y-y-yes.”

Speak Swahili?

“Of course – fluently.”

Wash Dishes?  

“Yes.”

 

Only one of these answers held any truth.  I could wash dishes.   I washed a lot of dishes, I served food on a lot of dishes – in fact, had there been a movie made about waiters, I would have been right there, carrying the dishes.

 

All the other skills I would lie about, study frantically if needed, or pray I wouldn’t actually be asked to do.  To be honest, though, nobody asked me – much.

 

I could mention the time when, directed to perform in a polka scene on a small stage with a troupe of girls in impossibly unwieldy dresses, I was literally crinolined into the orchestra pit.  Or I could mention the musical director for a regional pantomime who, discovering my voice’s true potential moved me first to the back of the chorus and then into the wings.

 

He placed me right next to the maroon which was meant to represent  a cannon shot…

 

“Here we come boys, here we stand,

With every man aboard.

We’ll cut and parry and then riposte,

And parry the old St. George!”  (BOOM!)

 

Plaster shaken from the ceiling, ominous rattling from the fly floor, drums blown from my ears.   Other than the sudden falsetto I hit (possibly the result of shock) the rest of my contribution to the song was a sort of improvised descant.  I was removed from the choir altogether for the next performance.

I could mention these, and other humiliations, but I won’t.  They still hurt.

 

So, like most actors, I had lots of jobs.   (How do you address a RADA Graduate? –  Big Mac and medium fries, please.) 

 

I drove taxis, I washed dishes, I made beds, I served dishes, I delivered milk, I cleared dishes.  Hotels and their darker subterranean regions were the stuff of life for me.  All for the occasional privilege of standing on stage with a big fan or similar prop while a nubile cast of dancers pranced through ‘Sleeping Beauty’, or making the odd appearance in a very minor part – which I could be relied upon to make even less important.

 

It took two years for the rose tint in my spectacles to turn a sort of rancid brown – an indecently long time in a young life.  Eventually I realized the stage was not for me because, in common with most very average actors, I was scarcely ever on it.  

 

I remember my Damascene moment.

 

A steel stockholders had been charitable enough to employ me and foolish enough to let me drive a crane.   A steel stockholder is a sort of wholesaler for girders – a vast shed where thousands of tons of heavy steel in various forms is stored before delivery to big construction sites. 

 

My job in a beam crane was to move stock up and down the long bays, either to lorries for delivery or between the welding benches upon which huge industrial size roof trusses were assembled.   Heavy industrial tools – drills, saws, reamers lined these bays.

 

This particular morning the piece of work on the benches in my bay was a truly massive truss, only just within the weight capabilities of my crane.  In sheer span it was wider than the bay.  At its apex it probably stood about twelve feet high. 

This monster had to be lifted to be transferred from the welding benches to the drilling bench, a matter of about forty feet further down the bay.   From my position in the crane cab, up in the warehouse roof, I could not see the clearance on my side of the bay.  Lifted, the truss was so long it extended beneath the cab. 

With guidance from a guy on the floor, I lifted and worked the piece gradually down towards the drilling bench.  My crane bogeys were grinding and slewing on their rails and I had visions of becoming derailed (which would have sent me, the crane and a lot of other gumph plunging thirty-odd feet to the warehouse floor).

Reaching the drilling bench, I stopped the crane’s lateral movement (or at least I thought I did) and began to send the carrier out far enough to swing the truss around, end on, so the drills could reach the part of the work where holes were required.  

 

As it lowered to his bench, the drill operative – a really nice guy in his fifties – took hold of the lower strut of the truss, intending to guide it a few final inches.  But the truss had not stopped swinging!   Why?  Because my crane had not stopped travelling.  The sheer weight of the piece was acting like a pendulum, keeping it in motion.

 

What made him hold on, I don’t know.  Some instinct for preservation, like the mechanism which keeps us clinging to the boat even though it is clearly sinking?  Whatever it was it kept him clutching desperately to that strut until some inner warning (or some shouted one) made him release it, less than a second before it hit the control panel of the drill and the whole truss went live.    Sparks flew, every machine in the warehouse stuttered and died.

 

That was the day I finally decided I was not cut out to be an actor.  Because pursuing my dream actually involved very little acting, and instead placed me in several occupations for which I was clearly ill-equipped.

 

Because I wanted to see those who were unfortunate enough to have to work beside me in those positions kept safe, and see a lot of very nice people like that drill operative go safely home to their families each night.

 

To be or not to be?  No – on balance, maybe not.

 

 

ImageMy question for this week:  who polishes David Cameron?

A lot of guys follow him around, and they are supposed to be security, but I’m prepared to bet that one of them is secreting a choice of chamois leathers and a spray can of Mr. Sheen.

Now I come to think of it, why let it rest there?  I mean, everyone acknowledges that the original Ed Milliband was made by Aardman (although rumors he is Wallace’s lovechild are probably unfounded) so someone must be there to touch up the plasticine, right?Image

Whatever we may think of their morality, or of their qualities as people, those who rise to the top in public life do work extremely hard.   Every waking minute must be time-managed; and in this news-hungry generation image management is equally vital.  So, with apologies for my cynicism, I refuse to believe that 7 a.m. at the Cameron’s bears any relation to breakfast time at my house. 

Upstairs?  Well, yes, you can picture some normality there:  wife Samantha telling Dave emphatically that if he must get up at this hour he can fix his own bloody tie, perhaps – but thus far and no further.   If you are due to meet the President of France at 9.00 o’clock an absence of underpants because they’re all in the wash could cause a national crisis, and as for the kids at breakfast….

Imagine the damage one exuberant spoonful of flying jam could do, or the under-confidence engendered by riding your bike commando through London Traffic, rabidly pursued by squadrons of paparazzi eager for the split seam that could end your political career?

No, somewhere behind the door at number 10 there are ‘people’ who ensure that sort of thing can’t happen.  I can imagine them waiting for their Prime Minister to emerge from his private accommodation with a shiny photograph in their pockets, ready to see the image perfected before he is allowed out of doors.

Why is this aspect of public life so important to us, the poor worker bees?  I suppose because at a stroke it invalidates the ‘just like us’ element of democratic leadership.  I recall at one time being told that Prince Charles has a personal valet who helps him to put on his trousers in the morning.  If true, presumably such a person must be in a position to check on the underpants situation at the same time.  But how personal can such an odd relationship get?  And to be so entwined in the lifestyle not to see it as odd – that is a far cry from the daily affairs of the people in the street.  

Lady Churchill once said of her husband that he never went shopping; that he would have had no notion how to conduct himself in a grocers.  Our current Chancellor of the Exchequer Gorgeous George Osborne is a member of a millionaire family and he, like most members of the current government were raised in the tradition of Eton and Oxbridge.  They grew up with the ‘fag’ system and nothing has really changed since.

This is the essential paradox of democracy:  that those who rule us are not, in essence, democrats.   They may say they are, they may lay claim to democratic principles, but they live according a much older code – that of feudalism. 

So spare a thought for the ‘fags’ – the people in the background who should unify us, yet somehow keep the separation intact – who do the unseen jobs.  The great unthanked.  They are untouched by the media, yet they make the Great and the Good much greater and hopefully quite a lot gooder.   

This is my quiet little round of applause for them, the silent ones.  For the man who plugged Richard Murdoch into the mains this morning, for the woman who does Nigella Lawson’s washing up, and the little chap who lurks inside the traffic lights in our town centre just so he can turn them to red every time I approach them. 

They also serve!