I was waiting in a patchwork waistcoat with my Martin guitar outside the gates of the V&A wondering if they’d ever show. My brief to provide incidental music to the Piccolo Players' Shakespearean play. Sixty quid for a two hour gig and I needed the money, a baby on the way and my girlfriend experiencing what I thought she said were Higgs boson contractions—the inevitable proof of life—the Godspark of those early amphibious splashes, the reptile underwater stretching its paw towards the light. Security were unimpressed by my get up and stubble, radioing back and forth from the safety of their portcullis and the noise of the static and pints of pale ale slopping in my stomach from the night before made me do the birdy hop.
‘You can’t set up here, mate..’ The controlled camaraderie, to sweeten the brush off.
‘No, I’m here for an event..’
You doubt yourself in a world of seeming competence. The men in sharp suits, well lubricated with shower gel and health insurance buzzed past. Was I up to the job? Money I earned could justify me hanging on to the guitar while we sold everything else but where were the puppeteers?
The Piccolo Players were a husband and wife team going through an acrimonious patch and the rehearsal yesterday on Sunday afternoon in the stuffy top floor flat had been tense. Alan said, ‘All I’m saying Hon, is we need to grab their attention with some sort of demonstration.. a magical spell…’
Kimberley sat on the floor, her whole body vibrating with the perceived challenge to her authority. ‘Don’t you think me showing them how a piece of bubble wrap breathes is magical enough…’
I wanted to step in but Kimberley was still quivering, sorting through the egg cartons. We just didn't get it. She wanted to animate the inanimate, dramatize its intrinsic qualities while Alan liked to stick fake eyeballs on everything.
On the steps I said to Alan, ‘Look, just a few clear instructions…’
‘Your role will emerge as things progress…’
‘Come off it.’
‘If you look for instructions you will find confusion. I’ve always believed that confusion is itself instructive.’
There it was. Ask for directions in West London and you get a road map to enlightenment from a cut-price Yoda.
They were late and I watched a stream of elegant young women in summer frocks bantering with the security guard thinking about my pregnant girlfriend and our tiny biological window of attractability. Only a moment on a summer’s day before the dandelion turns from yellow to silver and blows its white afro across the field, the seed sown and the sun ripening and then blackening the harvest. A guy in a blue suit and open top yellow Volkswagen was pushing open that window of attractability a bit longer, this is what a curatorial job allows, calm moments in the stained glass gallery making heartfelt inquiries about the intern’s psoriasis on her bare arms and then it’s only a matter of time before sloping off to the mock Elizabethan suite to test the historic springs on the Great Bed of Ware.
The Piccolo Players arrived. Kimberley in short skirt, bare legs and cowboy boots wheeling a space age trolley, Alan hiding his hangover behind mirror shades. ‘Great stuff,’ he kept saying. A man in a woman’s blouse and Elizabethan goatee met us and shook hands, I thought for a moment he could quite possibly hand out specially adapted flea collars for us to wear during the performance to beef up our bardic qualities. We queued for passes. I smiled at the security guard as he waved me through, ‘alright if I set up inside?’ I said.
We then spent more than twenty minutes walking through empty galleries, up staircases, through crumbly courtyards and into more galleries via secret lifts where women in face masks lovingly held the broken porcelain legs of a Flemish Jesus separated from his mother’s lap, laid the legs on grey blankets on a gurney and dusted at the crack with paint brushes. The devotion and tenderness to those ceramic legs was astonishing . And still we walked and saw silverware and paneled music rooms, Mick Jagger’s jumpsuit which the guide told us was ‘child-size.’ Things were not good with the Piccolos. When Alan suggested a last minute change to the itinerary Kimberely snapped, ‘ Don’t do your lead singer bit here!’ The door to The Learning Zone was unlocked-- a circular space under a glass dome encrusted with treble clefs– and we were left in our pseudo-Elizabethan glory to come up with a two hour entertainment in under ten minutes. Even Alan was looking phased. Not quite as keen on embracing the chaos as yesterday.