My life as an actor, part one
By Simon Barget
Back in the day they set me up with a reporter because they wanted to do a piece on me. Style magazine; heard of it? A small publication, a bit niche. Readership c. 5,000, monthly. Couldn’t get it in newsagents. He had one of those mini A7 notebooks that policeman use, that Colombo used to use, whose pages are hinged at the top and which you fold from the top up and over, like the greengrocer used to do when taking your order. 4 x lb pears, 3 x lb tomatoes etc. And it was a raggedy little notebook which belied the rigour of the man’s approach, and this guy proceeded to note down every last detail about every tiny thing I did when he was with me.
He was an inspector, judicious. The way he cast his gaze or kept it upon me a little bit too emphatically, as if a human being had something to hide, as if there was something to be found out about me and he was going to make his mission to find it however long it took him. As soon as he came in he started writing, looking at things, observing, holding his head up from the notebook which when down showed his incipient bald patch -- he had very dark black hair (probably dyed) swept back over his head with some sort of gel or hair product to restrain it, such that the hair looked thick at the front, but not up to the job of covering the crow’s perch right at the top of his head, and the empty bit gleamed under my down-lighter -- and his breath I remember being so bad and simply stale, and then he had an indistinguishably-coloured anorak, perhaps a grey-green or a grey-brown, some awkward green-grey-brown mix, where you can hardly make out any colour in any kind of light, whatever you shine on it, which he then took off and slung negligently over my banister.
He could have been anywhere within that vague unindividuated age range between say 35 and 43.
He was the type to make himself at home i.e. let himself in, help himself to a Fanta and set himself down for an episode of EastEnders. Feet up on your pouffe style. Something a bit ferrety. Poky and twitching. But so chipper. So at ease, it was sickening.
As soon as we got in he needed the loo, he said, at once so casual in the request yet also implying he’d explode and start indiscriminately spraying if he didn’t get his kegs down within the next three seconds. IBS or Crohn’s type of thing. I only knew this with hindsight, because he spent twelve minutes in the toilet, I timed him, and no normal faecal episode can take that long. What takes twelve minutes? Not that I pressed my face up to the door but I heard nothing. One of those perennial sufferers, of the afflicted gastro-intestinal system. I do indeed have a chronic condition, Martin. Definitely an abuser of emphasisers and general fill-in words such as ‘indeed’. Or other non-U solecisms. I looked for signs of jaundice in his face but didn’t find any.
And there he was in my bathroom with his little teal notebook and his pencil, taking full account of the length, girth, displaced water volume, splashback, then of course noting down the make of my toothbrush, which anti-deps I was on at that particular time, what shower gel I liked, my face creams, why hadn’t I done something about the unsightly brown stain round the shower plughole, maybe he got out his tape measure and measured its circumference, but I could just imagine him making lists, endless lists of irrelevant things, observations about me, ad hoc things, non sequiturs, flitting from one thing to the next, without anything having any stringent connection to anything else or setting it up as a narrative, just strings of meaningless facts.
In that way he was certainly autistic. On the spectrum; although he could look me in the eye very capably, perhaps a little too long for my liking. Four seconds too long to be precise.
But it was like having a bird on your shoulder, that’s what it was like, repeating everything you were doing, saying. Recording everything. This is what it felt like what he might have written, or at least what he wanted to.
Martin is walking into the living room, treading ever so slightly more on his left foot than his right. A slightly uppish quality to his walk, like his feet are on springs or something, small stilts, something rather effeminate yet clumsy and certainly not elegant. Feet splayed a little bit too much for my liking. Now Martin is thinking, Martin is putting his left hand to his face, to this chin to be precise, Martin is holding his hand there now, and then after perhaps two seconds he is starting to move his hand down the chin, slowly. The hand is all around the chin, encapsulating it, holding it in a support, the fingers settling above the cleft just below the lips so that they are pointing to the left-hand-side as you look at Martin, now every so often, his thumb, which is facing upwards, moves there and back across his sunken left cheek, caressing, in a sort of conscious act of self-soothing where the caress seems to indicate or even be in sync with some internal thought process, possibly about the question I have just asked him. What did I just ask him?
Not to mention what was going on outside.
Outside there is the dull thud of some final raindrops after some fairly persistent rain. This is the sort of rain that falls from pernicious grey or even charcoal clouds, and then when the rain is falling it is heavy and persistent, and whether this is more because of the fact that the rain on the windows obscures a lot of the view, when you look out at the sky or the foreground or try to see anything, you can only perceive that dark grey, charcoal sky, and hear that persistent nature of the rain and when rain like that could ever stop no one could say. There is no great wind and the rain just seems to drop almost vertically as if on slow release from a tap. But now the rain has abated and the dark grey hue to the sky has gone to be replaced by something far whiter and more glaring, in fact it is difficult to look at without say squinting a little, something at least connoting once again that the sky is in fact to some degree open, a portal to the heavens, that it’s not some enclosing dome, and now you are seeing the sky but those last rain drops haven’t yet run their course and they’re a vestige of what recently was.
His name: Neil. In every way shape and form a Neil. He had a signet ring, the type your grandfather wore and might have handed down to you with a yellowy-ochre stone inside worth practically nothing. He had a beauty spot on the upper part of his left cheek as you looked at him, a dark spot quite near the caverns below the eye lids, which I noticed were very shadowy indeed, making him look tired or sinister, like an incongruous malefactor. An Essex boy done good. An insurer, a broker, more than a journo. A chancer, a wide-boy, but an autistic one with a head for facts. He had the upbeat twang of a Romfordite, good-humoured, I suppose you’d say ‘chipper’ and I asked him to take his shoes off after he had omitted to even ask if he needed to take them off in my hall, which the vast number of shoes in my little–pre-made slots might have given some sort of indication that this house was full-on a no-shoe zone, and I remember the fasteners were Velcro -- they were one of those modern hip trainer cum dress shoe affairs like those now made by Geox or some other upscale Italian brand -- although I didn’t look hard enough to see the label, but they were of the type where the sole and the welter and every bit of the shoe blends in into one whole membrane-less being, and when he took them off sitting on the chair that I usually have guests sit at, he just placed them next to his right leg at the base of the chair, his big lumpen shoes, not, say, at the door to the room where they might have been less intrusive, and certainly not back downstairs where they really belonged.
But you could just sense he was critical. Behind the chipperness he was there to unseat you, not uncommon for a writer, for a journo I suppose. Behind all his chumminess he was going to do a hatchet job. And I didn’t want go through the motions.
After the whole thing, and believe me he lingered -- 83 fucking minutes -- he said yes to a third cup of tea, I was exhausted. Imagine having someone watch your every move, a disembodied voice speaking everything, everything within your purview, that you know think or feel, Martin this, Martin that, let’s talk about Martin, dissect him, convey him, mould him, destroy him, constantly taking stock, above all identifying him, trying to pin down the essence of Martin every bloody second, a hopelessly persistent voice, niggling, is he this/is he that, success or wastrel, do people really like him, is Martin a good person, does he care, give a shit about the homeless, about the world, about current global affairs, about his family, does he do things for his friends, is Martin loyal, will he be there when shit hits the fan.
In the end the piece didn’t get done. There wasn’t even a follow-up from Neil, he just didn’t respond to my calls. After all the hectoring the coming under the knife I didn’t get my piece in, I remember that bit. So what was the use of all the inquiring?