Friday, 30 April 2021

Covid Poem

 

You are 13.8 billion years away

Stars have come and gone

Galaxies collided

Since I last saw you.

 

The big bang saw the nativity of our universe

And I have been waiting that long to see you again.

Time is ticking the stars away

Time is tediously erasing its memory of us and all that came before.

 

But I defy time and atoms and the definitive click of the quantum clock

And demand that you and I will meet again

I demand once again

That fingers touch fingers

That lips touch lips

That hugs will embrace hugs

And we will see each other again.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Saints

 

Working loads of shifts in the care home as they always seem to be short staffed, but the truth is most of us are on minimum age and it doesn’t really reflect the work we have to do, so it’s hardly surprising.  I’m mostly working in the kitchen now; dishwashing and taking breakfast trays to the resident’s rooms; sometimes having to feed the ones who are very weak and I guess facing their final days.  So – dishwashing, some cooking, preparing and serving suppers, laying tables, pouring drinks, cleaning rooms and bathrooms, collecting trays on a trolley from the various floors.  But the most difficult aspect of the job is seeing the gradual decline of the people I’ve got to know very well, and witness their vulnerability and dependence increase as they slowly find their bodies and mental faculties wither and begin to fail them.  It’s a hard lesson of mortality and me and the other carers see it every day.  And of course now and then someone will die and it’s hard not to feel their loss, even though it’s part of the job; ‘end-of-life-care’, and during the pandemic we’ve been the only people they’ve been able to communicate with mostly and they really miss their family, their children and grandchildren.  Consequently I do chat quite a lot with them and on the whole they have some incredible life stories; for instance, one lady who is 100 years old was a volunteer driver during the second world war, ferrying troops and personnel around during the blitz, and for a while she was a driver for Eisenhower, who was a five star general at the time and then became the 34th President of America.  So – ups and downs I suppose; grim-faced individuals living with the pain and distress of old age, but still smiling and making the best of things.  But as I said it is a place for end-of-life-care, and during my second week I took a breakfast tray up to one resident and when I opened the door I thought ‘Christ, you don’t look well!’  I spoke her name a few times, but it soon became apparent that she had passed away during the night.  A shocking moment for me, but a well-worn ritual for the main carers who are generally there, holding hands and speaking soothing words as they gently help someone face their final journey.  The staff there are incredible and I have nothing but respect for the dignity they show the residents and the small kindnesses they administer daily... all for minimum wage.  They are saints.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Risky Jobs

 

Since the theatres have closed I still have to pull in a wage and it’s been proving to be a bit of a risky enterprise.  I returned to my job as a carer in children’s homes, putting in a few shifts for a while.  However, the kids who are in ordinary times a bit of a handful, are responding to the pandemic with even more challenging behaviour; no longer allowed to go to the cinema, go shopping, can’t  see friends or even family (which is really important for them) on supervised contact; a lot of them are finding it all too much; confined to a place they don’t want to be and with other kids they don’t particularly want to be with either, violent outbursts born of frustration and hopelessness are almost a daily occurrence and staff are getting injured, sometimes quite badly.  I myself have taken a few hits from kids in the past and spitting at staff too is something that happens a lot.  After coming home after a really challenging shift where the whole day and night was spent restraining young people who were hell bent on destroying the home and each other, Sarah persuaded me to take a break and try and find something else a little less hazardous for a while.  And so I got a job under the ‘Pick for Britain’ scheme picking beans on a farm in nearby Mathon; back-breaking work in all weathers , but particularly in the heat wave we were going through at that time.  We were soon joined by workers from Romania and Slovakia who were staying in caravans supplied by the farmer, and boy they could pick!  As it was piece work, they worked relentlessly all through the heat of the day and the pouring rain too, and I guess they had to because I was appalled to discover that they had to pay for their meagre lodgings from the wages they earned.  They were great people, and in spite of our language differences we all got on really well and I did in fact enjoy the job: the physical labour outdoors, the camaraderie of the workforce and the feeling of doing something useful to help the country and farmers, who apparently were short of labour to harvest their crops.  But I felt there was a degree of exploitation happening and the conditions were far from adequate, with only one portaloo to service the whole field of over 60 pickers.  And so it was inevitable I guess that one Sunday on my day off I got a call from one of my fellow pickers to check the news headlines and discovered that the farm we were working at had a major covid outbreak and 200 workers were self-isolating.  That was the first we had heard of it; the farm never contacted one of us ‘Pick for Britain’ crew through our whatsap group or message or phone or anything.  Sarah and I immediately got a test and fortunately we were clear... that was the end of that particular job!  So now I’m working in a care home for the elderly, and it happens that one third of all covid deaths are in care homes!  But there really ain’t much work out there at the moment, and because I’m a registered care worker it wasn’t difficult to find a job there.  I’ve never worked with old people before and it is really hard work and long shifts too, but the residents are lovely and the staff are great; a real close team who do really care.  I’ve recently had the vaccine too because of my job, so that’s one good thing I suppose. Missing loads of regular normal things of course: theatre, pubs, my gym, seeing friends and most of all I’m missing my daughter who I’ve only seen a couple of times all last year...  Just getting on with life at the moment and hoping that Sarah gets the vaccine too soon as she had heart surgery a year ago and is consequently at risk.  But we’re out walking, socially distancing meeting up with a few local mates when we can, watching loads of Netflix and stuff like that, but God do I want things to get back to normal and I would love to b able to hug my little girl again.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

RSC and then Covid


I have been touring with the RSC performing in As You Like It and Taming Of The Shrew, a dream job for me, since it was a trip to the RSC that first sparked my interest in theatre and inspired me to get to drama school and become an actor and writer.  But sadly the tour was cut short when the covid virus struck.  We had just reached the end of our National tour and were about to embark on the International leg to Chicago, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo when theatres around the world suddenly went dark, and who knows when they will open again?  All very sad, but I must confess that I was somewhat concerned about the environmental impact, which I think would have been substantial, given the huge cast, crew, band, set etc.  I have been even more involved with green issues of late and attended a few Extinction Rebellion protests and rallies, and wonder now that we are in lock down we should assess what’s really important in our lives, and I think top of the list is our planet; we owe it to the next generation to try our best to save it because ‘tipping point’ is very nearly here.  And so while I am sad to have lost a job I have really enjoyed and longed for, I wonder if it was really necessary to travel so far for the sake of art.  During the tour the RSC were also pressured to abandon their sponsorship with BP.  Times are changing and times have been very dark lately; this pandemic has left its mark on humanity in a very profound way; so many have died, so many infected, so many lives ruined, and it may possibly be because of the selfish wish in so-called ‘wet markets’ to eat strange, exotic animals like bats or the endangered pangolin.  All of these ideas are inspiring me and my writing at the moment; I feel this could be a moment when the world might be able to press the ‘reset’ button and do things differently, more compassionately, especially following Greta Thunberg’s worldwide movement to save the planet and the inspirational ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, but sadly headline news still speak of war, unrest, famine and oppression.  Strange unparalleled times... who knows what will happen next?

As You Like It, RSC:




Monday, 9 July 2018

Big Baby Trump


As President Trump is soon to be gracing our shores I thought I’d post this...  Together with my band - Dirty Harry Band, we have recorded two new songs (both of which I am the singer): 'Stupid' - our response to President Trump and '50 Shades of Black' a musical send up of 'that book'.  Please download them and listen and if you like, please share the link; especially 'Stupid', as (given the message) we'd love this song to reach as many people as possible.  'Stupid' can be found on itunes, spotify, facebook, etc.  

Best Wishes

Alex Jones.


STUPID

Stupid -
You’re so stupid,
You’re dangerous and stupid
Big baby stamp your feet
If you don’t get your way
And you can’t take the heat.

Stupid -
You’re so stupid.

Disgusting -
You’re so disgusting,
You’re so skin-crawlingly, disgusting.

Pussy-grabbing bar room bore
Locker room morals
Rotten to the core.

Disgusting -
You’re so disgusting.

Chorus:

We need to build bridges
But you wanna build walls
Big-mouth bigot
But you ain’t got no balls
The fake news media
Got you sweating at night
Ranting and raving
‘Cos you know that they’re right
Twitting and a-tweeting
Like a teenage nerd
Desperate for approval
You so wanna be heard.

Guitar break

Hateful -
You’re so hateful,
It’s disturbing how anyone can be that hateful.

History taught  
Foreigners to be aware
Of psychopathic fascists with dodgy hair,

Chorus:

We need to build bridges
But you wanna build walls
Big-mouth bigot
But you ain’t got no balls
The fake news media
Got you sweating at night
Ranting and raving
‘Cos you know that they’re right
Tiny little hands
Tiny little brain
Ego like a planet,
You’re so vain...

Spoken:

Crass -
You’re so crass,
You’re a blundering, idiotic ass.
And you’re stupid!
Yeah, you’re stupid -
Look in the mirror, dope -
See how stupid you look -
And we’re all laughing at you!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Cathy - final outing


Ali Taylor’s wonderful play ‘Cathy’ has been touring yet again!  This time playing for three weeks at Soho Theatre before heading off for Cornwall, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, theatres in Wales and a final week in London at the Albany Theatre.  It’s been a privilege to be a part of such an amazing production and to perform with such a talented cast; especially Cathy Owen who plays the title role, every night embarking on an emotional journey that generally leaves the audience in tears.  The play has been pretty much sold out and we’ve often received standing ovations at the end of performances.  I shared my latest play with Soho and had a meeting with the artistic team there.  It would be great to see it performed at Soho, especially as my play ‘Noise’ was one of the plays that opened their theatre at Dean Street to great acclaim when I was one of the latest movement of playwrights then known as ‘In Yer Face Playwrights’.  We’ll see...
In the meantime I’ve enjoyed performing as an actor again in a very relevant play which is still garnering fantastic reviews, including this one from the Independent...
There but for the grace of God: this update of Ken Loach’s seminal 1966 drama is as powerful as its forbear Pamela Raith

In 1966, the BBC broadcast Ken Loach's seminal Cathy Come Home, a drama that shook the nation, altering people's perceptions of homelessness. More than fifty years on, Ali Taylor's powerful play Cathy reminds us that the state of housing is still a very sore issue and it draws on deeply researched real-life experience to imagine how a modern Cathy would fare in the current climate.  
The piece was commissioned by Cardboard Citizens, the company that makes theatre with and for homeless people, and it is one of their most galvanising shows. I have never felt so viscerally how easy it can be for people to fall into the homeless trap. 
In Adrian Jackson's excellent production, this insecurity is symbolised by a large jenga block. As well as providing a screen for the interview footage of up-to-the-minute testimonies, this structure shows how something that seems so solid can in fact be highly precarious. It doesn't take the removal of many pieces for the whole edifice to fall in on itself.    
Cathy Owen gives a stunningly good performance as Cathy. Humorous, nobody's fool, and proud of the fact that she has always been able to pay her way, she juggles three jobs as a cleaner. Her 15-year-old daughter Danielle (spot-on Hayley Wareham) is only months away from GCSEs and her confused father is in a nursing home round the corner. But now she's on zero hours contracts and when gets a few weeks behind with the rent, the new landlord – the nephew of the friendly old lady with whom she's dealt before – sees it as the perfect opportunity to evict Cathy from her longstanding East End flat and move in considerably more profitable tenants. 
Mother and daughter are then pitched into a bewildering tangle of impersonal officialdom, the short, sharp scenes heightened by the fact that Amy Loughton and Alex Jones pungently play all the other characters. This is a crusading piece and does not pretend to be even-handed but the opposition, though presented as cold, is never crudely caricatured. No emergency accommodation can be found for them within the borough, so the pair are relocated to a bedsit in a dismal property in Luton where the local girls bully Hayley for being, as they take it, one of the “scrounging” immigrants they associate with the house. The two of them are stuck there for months. 
It's as if the intricate support groups that make life feasible, and the fact that people have dependents, no longer carries any weight for the geniuses who think that a two-bedroom maisonette in Newcastle will be the solution to Cathy's problem. There's a terrible catch in all this: if you refuse an offer, you can be deemed  “intentionally homeless” and the council will relinquish its duty of care. But if there is a minor involved, as there is in Cathy's case, then there is perceived obligation to pass the file on to Social Services. “We cannot allow a 15-year-old to sleep rough on the streets,” one official observes.
  Owen movingly suggests the central character's fierce love for her daughter, her pride in the girl's schooling and her determined, heartbreaking hope. The strains in the mother-daughter relationship are achingly signalled by the actresses, especially when desperation reduces her to making an appeal to the girl's feckless gambler father who has reluctant temporary room for one of them. Every setback feels like a body blow. The descent is utterly convincing and with no trace of melodrama.
At Soho Theatre, Cathy is being performed as a standalone piece. It then goes on tour to Glasgow Cardiff, Milford Haven, Aberyswyth and the Albany, London, when the proceedings will continue after an interval with the cast improvising on audience suggestions as to how the characters might have dealt with the situation differently. But however experienced, this excellent show leaves you buzzing with thoughts about how a terrible system can be improved

Monday, 19 February 2018

Farewell to some old friends

2017 saw a good few friends of mine pass away, sadly long before they really should have, all of cancer and all much too young.  Among them, Sue Edmonds who was in her late forties; she died of breast cancer, which she thought she had beat.  She was diagnosed about the same time as me so we used to swap notes regarding our treatment whenever we bumped into each other.  We both had operations, and Sue had extensive chemotherapy too, but sadly her cancer came back a few years ago and pretty soon it was clear that it was terminal this time.  A few months before she passed we were invited to her birthday party and it was clear when we got there it was her way of saying goodbye to us all.  She had endured a lot of surgery in the previous few months, and it was upsetting to see a massive patch over her eye which had been removed as the cancer was now in her face; she was also having trouble eating and swallowing food too, but somehow she seemed in high spirits and laughed and joked with us all and the evening in spite of her obvious suffering was wonderfully touching and enjoyable; her children and husband Paul were there of course and they made sure the evening was a success and that Sue had a good time.  It’s amazing how people cope with life’s inevitable tragedy; I’ve seen it so often now, and seen many of my friends and relatives face the end of their existence with courage, stoicism and love for those around them, concerned also for their feelings at the loss of someone close and important... themselves.  I also lost a mate from drama school, ‘Adrian’, who was one of the funniest people I have ever met.  We were always together because we both seemed to have the same mad sense of humour, but we lost touch over the years, so when I heard that he had suffered from long term mental health problems and struggled with life’s hardships for a long, long time I found it really upsetting.  It’s strange how some people just seem to suffer; life just seems to constantly kick them in the face for no rhyme or reason, and it seemed that Adrian really did suffer and struggle with addiction, loneliness and a very cruel cancer that resulted in him having his tongue cut away.  I will always remember him as a funny, intelligent guy, concerned about the injustices of the world and passionately involved with theatre, the great love of his life.  It seems however that theatre let him down; he didn’t get on in the profession, and like many of my contemporaries eventually gave up trying to find work in an industry that can be so indifferent to great talent.  I don’t know if that rejection in some way contributed to his mental decline, but one suspects it may have been a factor.  I am also mourning the loss of our good friend’s young daughter, ‘India’.  She was only nineteen years old and died just before Christmas and in spite of her youth was an incredibly inspirational individual.  She had complained of severe headaches on New Year’s day two years ago and was taken to A&E where she had a scan which revealed an embedded tumour in her brain.  To her parent’s horror the medical staff informed them that it was inoperable.  Nevertheless, she was operated on – again and again, and each operation seemed to go wrong resulting in some speech loss, mobility and meningitis.  Her family still battled on to try and save their precious daughter; (because that’s what you do when you have a precious daughter), even raising money to take her to America to have proton beam treatment.  Eventually India declared that she had had enough of hospital and wanted to make the best of her last moments on earth.  She began her bucket list, writing letters (no messaging or emailing for her), working for a printing company and doing a parachute jump too.  The family had booked a trip to Sweden to try and see the Northern Lights; her final wish, but sadly the day before they were to travel she had a bleed on the brain and instead of catching a plane, she instead travelled to a hospice in Worcester.  A few weeks later she passed away and in those precious last days she planned her funeral, wrote an elegy about her personal beliefs and even made a video.  Her funeral was of course heartbreaking for her family, her friends and everyone who knew her – a seventeen year old girl who was looking forward to going on to University at St Andrews had endured two years of pain and suffering in a desperate quest to beat cancer and live as long as possible, but in those last few years she had achieved so much, and has left behind a legacy of memories and words which we experienced on that day, including the video in which she spoke with a slow, slightly slurred voice about the wonders around us all and how we should all enjoy and make the most of every moment we have.  There was no coffin at the funeral because as she could not donate her organs and be a donor, she instead left her body to medical science; and I think ‘what an extraordinary gesture from such a young and extraordinarily exemplary young woman.’  I myself as you can see am still around and kicking and have recently had more hospital checks, and indeed last year I had two endoscopies and a CT scan as well as various blood tests – all so far clear, thank God!  I endeavour to follow India’s advice and example and try and make the most of every moment I have, and indeed once you have experienced cancer you really do have a fresh perspective on life, but life constantly throws up its challenges, both financial and emotionally and so of course it is not always that easy to live up so such a unique person’s philosophical advice, but I am going to give it my best shot.  Life really is precious and it’s such an incredible accident of fate that we exist at all: our lives were forged in the furnace of the big bang 18.5 billion years ago and millions of years of evolutionary chance had finally given us conscious thought so that we can experience the amazing world we live in.  We really are, all of us, stardust.  Life is a beautiful gift; we shouldn’t squander it.
India as I said planned her funeral, and as science was always her touchstone and made sense of life and existence for her, one of the readings she asked for was ‘You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral’. By Aaron Freeman.  Here it is...
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.

Amen.