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A cold and weary player reaches surprising heights

‘She leaps urgently out of her bed at 7.05. It is not yet light. An unusual occurrence, especially with such a banging headache, but she is certain the extraordinarily loud ‘school’s out’-impersonating front doorbell has just been rung and her presence is required two floors below. Grabbing an improbably fluffy pink bathrobe en route, and still sporting scruffy bedsocks, she descends perilously quickly – noting, as she passes, that her other half has not stirred from the first-floor room she had made up for him late the previous evening whilst in superwoman mode (don’t ask, but it was an act of kindness rather than banishment, and involved significant solo mattress-humping – hmm, that was meant more in the furniture removal sense; the mattresses of two beds had been double stacked for reasons far too complex to explain here). Hmmph – she’s probably dreamt the stupid bell.

Reaching the hallway in record time (possibly), she tentatively opens the door a crack, hoping (as ever at such ungodly hours) that, if she has not been dreaming, then this will at least not be the police. It is in fact a small man, waving a dog-eared A4 sheet and announcing that he has a delivery of shower panels. The delivery for which she had set an alarm to ensure she would be up and ‘decent’ by 8am, the beginning of the 10-hour delivery window promised. 

“It’s only 7 o’clock,” she wails.

“I’ve come from Birmingham,” is the simple response, delivered in an authentic Brummie accent. 

Well, of course, that makes it all fine then. 

It is icy outside. She is wearing her bedsocks. She is NOT going out there to help, no matter how small this man may be, nor how far he has had to drive from Birmingham to get here, but he seems unperturbed and scurries to his van – which is parked in the middle of the street with its hazard lights bleakly flashing to ward off the impending bin-lorry (for it is Wednesday morning) – returning three times in rapid succession with the huge cardboard-encased packages containing (hopefully) shower wall panels to replace the incorrectly ordered three which had arrived the previous week (at a later and more suitable o’clock) and had been collected only yesterday.

After a further mad dash back to the top floor to retrieve a pair of spectacles for use in a cursory inspection of delivery labels and a fighting chance of working out which box she is supposed to be signing on the scruffy A4 without relying entirely on the Midlands’ finest digital box-indicator (“in that box there, no there”, with accompanying index-finger jabbing), she gently closes the door lest any of the scurrying commuters should glimpse that pastel-fluff robe – or, heaven forbid, the bedsocks! 

And climbs wearily back upstairs to cancel the alarm and climb back into bed. Until the inevitable bin-din begins, and the rest of the day takes over.”

You will note that I have written the above account in the third person as though it was someone else. It already has a surreal feeling as though I dreamt the whole thing. I did not. Sadly, I was trying to catch up on sleep, having risen at 4am the previous morning in order to reach Wembley Arena where I was booked to do a day’s work as a Supporting Artist with a call time of 5.45am. As is usual with these productions, I am not at liberty to tell you what exactly I was doing, with whom or for what production. So I will simply say that we were 400 in number, all women ‘of a certain age’ (forgive me, but I think that gives an accurate picture whether I like it or not), sitting in a variety of seats and formations so that our number can be swollen to 10,000 by green-screen and digital magic. There will therefore presumably be 25 versions of me in the final film – I wish I had taken that into account when agreeing my fee!

Despite being indoors all day and in the company of so many other people, and even though we were allowed to put our coats and blankets on in between takes, I became numbingly cold. The arena is vast, has a concrete floor and no visible means of heating – until they finally brought in a few cannon-shaped heaters with fearsome gas jets inside, which made little difference, especially because they had to be turned off when the cameras were rolling because of the terrifying noise they made.

By the time I finally signed out at 8pm, I reckon my body temperature was hovering somewhere below normal and I was unusually glad of the warmth of the tube train.

In fact, it was a fascinating day despite the cold. I get to meet lots of different people and we collectively create the world the director requires, which could be anything.  This time, I was excited that we were being asked to sing. I think a favourite memory will be of a rehearsal at 7.30am of the famous hymn Jerusalem the words to which we had been sent no more than 12 hours previously along with a link to YouTube so we could learn it. A maddeningly chirpy young chap stood up on a table and a slightly less than chirpy young lady climbed half way up the staircase at one end of the room. Each was wrangling several boards on which the words of Jerusalem had been printed in LARGE. “Let’s have a go” he cheerfully yelled. “Three, two, one… ” He did not start the singing – he probably doesn’t know it – and clearly did not feel we needed a starting note or a beat. Miraculously – and surely because we were a large gaggle of middle-aged women – by the time the Holy Lamb of God made an appearance, we had settled on a key and a tempo, and all was going swimmingly until we discovered that the Countenance Divine was reluctant to shine until AFTER the bows and arrows had been brought – a somewhat unorthodox verse order which had to be speedily, and roughly, cut and pasted in time for the on-camera performance. At least we had the notes in roughly the right order, even if they were quite definitely not in the usual key.  

The ‘gold’ moment was delivered later when we were installed in the Arena and the actors had taken to the rostrum. A far-too-cheerful Welsh girl (we wore her down to a more normal level of cheeriness by the end of the day) exhorted us to ‘Stand when you hear the intro, and then give it your all!’ And, as I had rather feared earlier, the canned piano music began rousingly in the customary D major key for Jerusalem and I rose to my feet in the sure and certain knowledge that I would never be able to build that there Jerusalem anywhere near those Satanic Mills, situated as they would be more than an octave north of my normal pleasant warbling lands. However – buoyed up by the sight of a demented lady actor at the grand piano on stage pretending to play with enormous enthusiasm and flourish, and more than a little amused that the three irritating ladies who had been sitting in front of me for the past hour or so talking endlessly and loudly in their native Russian* had been temporarily and lustily transformed into my very English mother-in-law, I screeched my way right up to JerUSalem’s top E. Although jubilant, I have rarely been as relieved to hear the director shout ‘CUT’, and the world will be spared any further squeaky attempt at the green and pleasant lands. I will admit that I mimed the top notes in the later renditions we were required to give, and failed to bring a tear to either of my eyes even when the cameras were panning close, which is a shame, as I usually find myself blubbing when I sing this hymn for real. I mentioned this to the lady sitting next to me and told her that I had sung it at my own wedding. ‘Oh so did I,” she said. “But we’re divorced now, and I’m not going to cry about that!” And we had a laugh, and that sums up the way we get through fourteen hours of shuffling between different seating blocks, hiding our voluminous coats under our chairs so the high-mounted cameras can’t see anything, discussing how many layers of thermal undergarments we have respectively managed to conceal beneath our summery outfits, arguing about which casting agencies are best (or worst) and sharing horror stories of the earliest call times, the coldest days (this one a definite contender) and the best catering food (today’s was plentiful but not spectacular).

As I stumbled into the dark evening via the VIP gate through which I had sleepily staggered in the dark morning hours before, I was looking forward to a warm snack when I got home (instead a bought a calorie-packed flapjack bar at Waterloo and ate it greedily on the train) and a good long sleep (which was postponed due to my brief stint as Superwoman and a bad case of foot-cramp, and then abruptly shortened by the pre-dawn Brummie.) Ah well, I will not cease from mental fight until those arrows of desire are sated. Or some such nonsense – sorry, I am sleep deprived … and still a little cold.

*Little did they know I have a degree in Russian and was following their every word – haha. I could understand at least one in every twenty! 

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