Follow one crying eye on

Arise Dot Cotton!

It is 4.30am. Midsummer morn. Already light, although the sun is yet to rise. I silence my alarm, grab the waiting pile of clothes and head downstairs for coffee, with a remarkably spirited step for this time o’clock.


Is the aim to reach Stonehenge before the dawn for an uplifting sing? Or an alternative pagan ritual on a more local common?

Well, no. I am bound for that alternative well-known hippy-land – Shoreditch – instead. 

Maybe the godforsaken wedge-shaped carpark for which I have a postcode, a road name, some confusing instructions and an apparently definitive ‘three words’ (What?) will yield some uplifting solstice magic? I can but dream, but if I sit still for too long I will indeed drift back to dreamland all too readily, so I abandon my jumbled ponderings in favour of getting a move on, brushing my teeth, shoving many pre-gathered bits and pieces into my trusty Mickey-Mouse shoulder bag, and leaving the house, gently closing the door behind me.

I find myself at my local railway station on a clear-blue-sky Wednesday morning waiting for the 05.50 train into London. I have a reasonably clear plan for the onward journey to Shoreditch and am determined to be phased neither by the unaccustomed hour nor the shortness of train. I fear that my old person’s freebie travel pass doesn’t work until much much much much later in the day, and to avoid the ignominy of refusal at the first hurdle, I reluctantly deploy an actual payment card. I realise that I no longer know the cost of this familiar journey, but my pride (and relief) at having successfully made it this far despite my ferociously uncooperative body-clock, overcomes any financial qualms and I veritably spring onto the carriage and bag a window seat.

I am already too hot. I am wearing jeans and winter walking shoes and beginning to regret the vest under my T-shirt. Never mind – in no time at all, I am navigating the subterranean walkways at Waterloo, down to what I have always known as the Drain (I don’t know if today’s commuters still refer to the Waterloo and City Line as the Drain but, if not, I don’t really care – I know what I mean, and it’s not a Bazalgette sewer) and thence to Bank, then onward to Liverpool Street Station where I emerge into full-on morning sun.

Shortly after, I find myself bravely striding down a graffiti-strewn alleyway, the crunch of broken glass at my feet adding to the atmosphere of bohemian adventure. Just as my nerves are beginning to fail me slightly, I catch a waft of fried bacon and, sure enough, there is my destination: neither hipster café nor druid encampment, but a huddle of assorted trailers and gazebos stuffed into the promised car-park and a slightly overheated, but also somehow chilled, Assistant Director with a clip-board to greet me. Yes, I am once again scratching my Supporting Artist (SA) itch; this time the fourth series of a successful Apple-TV series which I have never seen (although I have read all the books). I am not allowed to say what the production is or give away too many details – it says this in the contract (which at this point in the proceedings I had not seen or signed, but they are always the same on this).

I am whisked to the make-up trailer where my hair is plaited and the usual less-is-more approach is taken to my face. In the past, I have been left without make-up at all, although this time I’m not sure whether to be proud or a little bit sad when they choose to accentuate my bad points rather than disguise them. I am reprimanded mildly when I tell them the brief from my fitting last week was just to make me look “like me… only worse”. As they rapidly apply dark browns and blacks, I realise this is teaching me which bits I need to hide if I want to look presentable or at least a bit less hag-like. The finishing touch is a generous spray of oil on my hair to make it look greasy. Hallelujah.

I am ushered into a small trailer to change into my costume, part of which I am already wearing (those jeans and walking shoes), including a large roll-neck sweater and a padded jacket. It is, I think, an unwritten rule that SAs work exclusively in the season opposite to the one being depicted on camera. Thus, today’s action takes place in a chilly on-screen January, whilst we pretend not to notice the reality of 30-degree June heat. SAs are known to compete with each other over how many thermal layers they can secretly conceal beneath summery outfits when shooting summer fetes in the depths of winter (‘I’ve got three vests and two pairs of tights on and cardboard liners in my shoes’; ‘Well, I’ve got a couple of lithium-battery-powered hand warmers in my bra*.’ etc), but other than risking the ‘commando’ option, there is less one can do this way round (‘I’ve got no knickers on’; ‘Me Too!’ might of course be misinterpreted). [*Don’t try this.]

Next is breakfast, at which I successfully fail to dribble or smear anything onto my costume, whilst hearing from a fellow SA how he had attempted Graffiti Alley, but thought better of it when spotting some drug-dealing up ahead and taken a much longer route instead. Hmm. I’d obviously been lucky. Shudder.

We are then herded into a mini-bus for transportation to the ‘set’, a City of London council estate next to the Barbican. Most of my fellow SAs are not much more than a quarter of my age and only a couple are of my own ethnic origin. Even at this time of day, they are a lively bunch, and I confess to being relieved when the youngsters are taken off en masse to film a scene for which the remaining five ‘adults’ are not required. Relief increases on realising that our filming base for the day is a pub, with a modicum of cooling from an old-fashioned ceiling fan and proper facilities to boot.

Considerable time passes. We exchange a few stories, mostly about layers of clothing on winter shoots of course, before lapsing into phone-surfing or – in my case, hurrah – reading our books. The youngsters have not returned, so we have peace until the caterers arrive from their earlier car-park duties and begin to set up lunch in the middle of the pub (which is closed to the public). We are finally escorted outside and along a walkway towards the Action. A chap of similar age to me is walking towards me – a very familiar face and I automatically smile hello, which he returns as we pass by each other. Oh FFS I’ve done it again! He’s not an acquaintance, but an actor (yes you daft woman, there will be actors here!) and, weirdly, one I watched storm offstage at the National Theatre just two evenings ago (and then stride back in and make a very funny unscripted comment as it became clear the revolving stage had broken and the play could not continue with all the techies digging it up – it’s ok, I’m rebooked for July). Of course, this prompts me to tell everyone around me the story of the aborted play – to no-one’s interest whatsoever. 

It turns out the adults are not needed, but we’re held nearby just in case they want some human scene-dressing (they don’t) and thus are able to watch from afar as the ‘talent’ (the friendly actor) works with the youngsters and the scene is shot from different angles, some of which require us to crouch down behind a parapet so we cannot be seen. I love all this. It is so completely unglamorous, but fascinating. I would, naturally, love it a whole lot less if we were standing, or crouching, in the sun rather than the shade, or if it was pouring with rain, but it’s great today. 

The scene is wrapped and we return to the pub.  Lunch smells good. They’ve already taken our orders. However, before we can get our clammy mitts on the food, three of us ladies are asked to line up for a photograph. This happens regularly throughout these shoots and we dutifully oblige. This time it seems that another SA with a later call-time has failed to turn up. They called her when she failed to show and she told them she was just 10 minutes away, but still never arrived.  She was booked to play ‘lady working in launderette’. They need to replace her urgently. And, from the photo just taken, the team have decided I’m the woman for the job.

I am immediately dispatched by minibus (alone, this is surely star treatment now) back to Crowd Base in the car park, wondering nervily whether I may be replacing the latest Graffiti Alley stab victim, if only someone cared to look, and fretting only slightly that I am missing my lunch. I should not have worried. There are no subsequent reports of Shoreditch murders, and – most important – my lunch is waiting for me in its recycled cardboard box in my very own trailer! OK, I exaggerate, but I am indeed installed alone in an air-conditioned trailer, because no-one else is around and it is the only place with a chair.

My make-up is deemed already perfect (‘sigh’), and I swap into the other SA’s clothes, which are a size too big for me, but that simply renders them even less flattering, which is probably a good thing. Who wears clothes that always fit properly anyway? (Oh, do you? Oops, must just be me then.) Miraculously the strangely-hued trainers she was supposed to wear are a perfect fit, and a little less warm than my own walking shoes, so that’s a bonus.

Critically, I have a tabard. A tabard!!! Victoria Wood in Dinnerladies springs to mind. But I think those were flowery and this one is plain. The late great Dot Cotton in Eastenders? Of course. (In fact, subsequent research shows that Dot wore a sleeved apron or coverall, so my excitement and icon-channeling are largely misplaced, but once I mention to the Assistant Director that I am now Dot Cotton, he laughingly confirms I very much look the part (harsh, but I’m sure he means well) and proceeds to reference her throughout the scene.)

I instantly take to my tabard. It has capacious pockets in which to hide my inactivated phone and the Fitbit they won’t let me wear even under long sleeves because it looks too ‘nice’ (Too nice? That’s a first for me – haha). I practice shoving my hands into the pockets and slouching a bit more than usual. Oh, what fun.

Back across London in the minibus, whose driver becomes confused and drops us a good 15-minute walk away from the estate – ‘us’ being me (Dot Cotton), one of the many Assistant Directors, and an unidentified other person who exchanges not a word with me, so is perhaps a VIP of some sort (but I don’t think so, just a mardy bu**er who relies on Dot and the AD to navigate on our phones).

Lurking outside the launderette, which is a real launderette on the estate and has been closed for the day for the filming, I realise that I am to be playing background to the show’s main character. No pressure then! I am ushered inside and installed behind the counter, where my new-found chum AD suggests a few little actions ‘Dot’ can do when the camera is rolling. He shows me on a film monitor, the small part of the shot that I will occupy (probably but not necessarily out of focus, I reckon) which is fascinating and not at all nerve-wracking. ‘I’ve got this’, as someone in the biz might say.

After several rehearsals and a couple of takes, there is a short break which leaves me in the launderette alone with the main ‘talent’. SAs are not allowed to talk to the ‘talent’ unless spoken to first, and no words were exchanged, although a raised eyebrow and small shrug apiece seemed pleasantry enough. I could not help but feel a bizarre otherness though. This guy has an Oscar. An actual Academy Award. And he’s sitting here in ‘my’ not-so-beautiful launderette, with his scruffy overcoat and scarf and his skanky locks treated with the same spray-in grease as I am sporting (or perhaps a more expensive and industrial strength version as he surely/hopefully looks skankier than me) waiting to make a pretend phone-call and a rapid exit.

Once he has made this hasty exit for the umpteenth and final time, I am left completely alone with the eternally turning driers – which have been fed endlessly by yet another AD from a stash of one-pound coins hidden under the (my) counter – until even they run out of steam. I watch proprietorially through the glass as my fellow SAs walk past several times in character filming the outside scene. It is only when an elderly couple come in with a large service wash that I am brought back to earth. Sadly, before I can take their money, the actual owner arrives and points out that he is closed (and earning far more from Apple than he would get in a week from the punters – he doesn’t say this, of course, but it is surely true) and chases them grumpily away.

A quick change back into my first set of clothes, and we are taken further up the street and I find myself walking away from camera and towards the Academy-awarded scruff as he continues a phone conversation with a pretend colleague. I excel myself here, managing quite magnificently to set off on cue (mostly) and not to smirk, poke out my tongue or full-on collide with him at all. We probably do this seven or eight times. It is then a wrap – and we are bundled into the minibus back to base. We don’t see the ‘talent’ again; he has perhaps retired to the pub, or hopped in a passing limo. We change and are dispatched with as much haste as the crew can instil in us because we are already well into overtime time and every fifteen minutes costs them more.

I risk the alley and am relieved to see no evidence of drugs or dead bodies, although the broken glass remains, and there is a chap on an upturned box adding to the copious graffiti. Presumably paid by the council in this hip-neighbourhood– who knows?

Commuters are perhaps surprised to see Dot Cotton as she scuttles through Old Spitalfields Market and along Threadneedle Street to Bank, even though she thinks she is incognito having left her tabard behind. And then this old lady leaves The Old Lady behind as she descends to the Drain to meet her Waterloo, where Mrs J ascends to the concourse to board her (now free!) train home.

Thus, another day of ridiculous work comes to an end.

I wonder who I’ll be next time?






I don’t do it for the glamour or the fame. 

I most certainly don’t do it for the money.

And even more certainly, I don’t do it because of a love of early mornings or lengthy hangings-around in the freezing cold (or occasionally a massively overheated pub function room).

Sometimes, when my contribution remains metaphorically, if not literally these digital days, somewhere on a cutting room floor, I wonder why I do it at all.

But this week, my on-off career as a Supporting Artist has taken centre-stage in my personal mid-life docu-drama.  

Firstly, an appearance on prime-time BBC1, as I was to be seen lurking with an ice-cream and a bunch of gaudy Hooray chums at Henley Royal Regatta whilst a less-than-usually-sweary Gordon Ramsay discussed the various successes and failures of his latest batch of wannabes who had just supposedly plied us with flavoured vodka. [Somewhere in one of my long and rambling missives last year I captured the making of this] You can find this on the BBC iPlayer – it’s really not worth the bother unless you enjoy that kind of programme anyway. For me, of course, it was great fun to watch because, although I am only very briefly visible myself, I can identify all of my friends who were there and remember the twaddle that we were guffawing to each other at the time.

Then weirdly, later in the week, I was attending a performance of a friend’s one-woman show – Tomorrow May Be My Last – which was playing at an Islington pub theatre. Mr J and his band Bourbon Street Revival have been gigging at this pub after the Saturday night performances and we decided it was time to watch the show. We met beforehand in the downstairs bar and it was only when we were summoned upstairs to the theatre room that I had a sense of deja-vu and realised I had been here before – as part of a ‘pretend’ audience when filming a no-budget feature film back in 2020. The name of the pub, the Old Red Lion, had rung no bells with me but it was definitely the same place – which I later confirmed by looking at my old diaries.

Of course, this prompted me to check the status of the film itself. I remembered it to be called something like The Diaries of Tai Atlas. I found it. Still in production. No surprises there – it seems to take forever to make these things. Even more bizarrely though, I noticed just this morning a casting call for Supporting Artists for a similarly titled film Life of Tai: The Diaries of Tai Atlas shooting in another of the locations I had visited in 2020, and indeed it appears to be the very same film still adding material. Sadly I’m not free on the day they are requesting.

But, narcissist that I am, my search for this particular film led me to check once again the other productions in which I have played a background part in the last few years and – to my enormous surprise – there I was on a film trailer gawping at a Martian Invader on Horsell Common and then running through the wood before being spectacularly blown up. I did a day’s work in October 2019 filming this – War of the Worlds – The Attack. It was the first time I was paid anything for such work, and the first on which I was able to eat lunch from a proper film catering facility. I was massively over-excited at the time, but ever since had assumed the production had been somehow abandoned. It has however just been released and whilst it is unlikely to grace our main cinema chains, it is clearly not a complete write-off. I will watch it in full when I get a free hour and a half – I believe it can be purchased or rented from Amazon. Needless to say, the Martian Invader was a figment of our imaginations on the day (with an eyeline object on a stick as a substitute) and I don’t recall the explosion at all – indeed I still have the jacket I was wearing and there is not single scorch mark to be seen!

Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

Fame at last – this was a short film called Miss Fortunate and my first-ever SA job (unpaid, but rather sweet of them to list all of us)

So, now I have another few seconds of screen time to add to my famous two seconds on the same bill as Ben Whishaw (yes, my name actually in the same screenshot of the credits even though I never saw him and we weren’t in the same scenes).

I think this is going to my head now. I’m already thinking what should be on my rider for future productions. 

Not having to get up too early or drive in the dark would be the first item.


…Maltesers, of course. (With no blue ones)



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! 

Another hospital drama

In a bizarre quirk of timing, not seven days after writing about (among other things) the remote possibility of being an Extra in the BBC’s hospital soap Casualty, I found myself donning PPE at the entrance to a ward in my very own local hospital and striding forth with my very best acting chops at the ready.

I like a challenge (Do I? Do I really? I think I may be kidding myself as well as you on this one. But let’s go with it.) 

The first hurdle was to find a place to park. Unusually for me, I had to take my car (all will become clear) and, in anticipation of confusion, I had looked up where the hospital car parks were earlier in the day, and found out how to pay etc. I even loaded up the special parking app on my phone – obviously, this was different to either of the ones I need for other local parking. Why make things straightforward? Anyhow, pleased with my forward planning, I noted just before I left home that the hospital car-park was showing as ‘Quiet”. Excellent.

As I turned into the main site entrance just five minutes later, I realised immediately that ‘Quiet’ must be code for ‘Completely Full and therefore gridlocked’. Ho hum. I decided that I would opt for the larger space near the maternity unit which would surely be quieter. Aren’t all babies born in the middle of the night?  However, when I got there, it was apparently closed – although others seemed to have got into it, and indeed be driving around in it, some of them quite obviously going the opposite direction to the worn white arrows on the tarmac. OK, I’ll go out and start again.

I recalled that the parking information online had told me I would be photographed on entry to the site, my number-plate captured, and thus my time would be monitored so that a calculation of the correct fee could be made for me to settle on departure. 

As I turned into the main site entrance for the second time, it crossed my mind that I was perhaps confusing the monitoring camera (which I couldn’t see, despite having plenty of time to look this time because I was immediately in a queue). I did another circuit, this time loitering briefly in the central area along with a couple of other cars whose drivers eyed me suspiciously – sizing me up to judge whether, should a vacant space become available, I would unfairly speed into it. I drive the kind of car which is often heartily disliked by others, but one of its features is that it is rather less nippy than most of the smaller vehicles on lurking duty and the chances of me executing a reversing hand-brake turn into a tiny space before my competitors were next to infinitesimal.

Once again, I emerged onto the main road and then swung for a third time into the main entrance. Tired of the main car park options to my left, I boldly took a right turn towards Accident & Emergency. Getting closer to that Casualty dream? Well, it most definitely DID also say that this was the direction to a further public car park. But I’m afraid this must have been a lie because, once past the ambulances (eyes firmly fixed elsewhere) and a couple of police cars, there was a tiny space in which about 30 cars had already jammed themselves, leaving no turning space and resulting in an interesting, and far too long for comfort, reversing manoeuvre on my part. I tried hard to look professional and focused as I sailed, backwards, past the paramedics, policemen and bleary-eyed relatives who, presumably (hopefully!) had other priorities than marvelling at my fabulously executed eventual three-point turn.

Once again I left the premises, and proceeded to perform two more circuits and bumps (not literal bumps, fortunately) of the main car parks, gesticulating angrily, then the last time hysterically, at the probably non-existent camera just in case someone could actually see me, before giving up and finding a roadside space next to the rear entrance to the hospital, which required one of my existing car-parking apps and was – typical! – cheaper. I immediately forgot my frustration in self-congratulatory smugness: not only was this location cheaper than the hospital car park, but it was almost certainly closer to the department for which I was headed. I am an actual genius.

Sadly, this genius was also by now more than ten minutes late but, buoyed by my success, I strode happily up to the nearest hospital signpost and, although perhaps a little sceptical by this stage as to the accuracy of signage hereabouts, followed its directions to the largest building in sight and entered via a busy doorway. Here goes.

I had dutifully donned a new disposable mask which I had remembered to bring from home. I knew which floor I needed and I headed confidently towards the lifts.  I reckon if I had been a tiny bit more confident, I would have made it unmolested,  but my eye was drawn to a couple of hospital staff sitting to one side of the corridor on the approach to the lifts. Their gaze locked with mine and I was asked to explain myself. My mission duly stated, they reluctantly agreed that I could pass, but I was handed a brand new mask in a wrapper and asked to put it on. My remonstrances that the mask I was already wearing had only just been removed from its own wrapper seemed initially to cut no ice, but then for some reason they relented. I am sure it looked completely box-fresh at this stage. I tried to give back the mask they had handed me. A small unseemly wrangle ensued. Apparently I had touched the mask, it was therefore ‘unclean’, and the stern lady quite definitely no longer wished to have it. I have kept it as a memento, in the bottom of my bag with all the other useful bits and bobs (and used masks that I know I should throw away, and will definitely never use again, but keep forgetting are in there until the latest theatre door-keeper highlights them with his little torch before sighing and letting scruffy-bag-lady into the foyer, judging that she may not be an actual terrorist, but is certainly breaking several of the laws of hygiene and good order).

I went up in the lift and followed more signs, encouraged by the helpfulness of the last one. And thus it was that, only one quarter of an hour after the allotted time, I arrived at the requisite ward and introduced myself to the ward-sister (or someone who looked quite important at the nurses’ station). “Oh, you’re Jackie! That’s great. So good to see you.” Weird. A bit over the top – luvvie, almost.

“This way.” We marched along the corridor. “Right, here we are. You just need to put these on first.”

Aha – my costume. A choice of Small, Medium and Large surgical blue nitrile gloves (chose Small – I have stupidly tiny hands), and a fetching white disposable polythene apron. No-one was going to help me into this – it was one of those do-it-yourself jobs. Note to self – if ever doing this again, put the apron on first. After an age pulling those horrid gloves on, I realised that unravelling the ridiculously flimsy ties and neck-halter elements of the apron was completely impossible. A kindly passing nurse obliged with the unravelling, but no-one seemed to want to assist with tying the tapes around my middle and, despite repeated attempts during the next couple of hours, I’m afraid to say that that apron was never fully secured at any point. It’s just possible that will-power and static electricity played some sort of part in the semblance of tied-up-ness I managed to achieve most of the time. At least, from the front.

And so began the jolly farce which was today’s assignment. The nurses continued to flit in and out on cue to change bedding or silence an alarm. A smiley young porter made a brief appearance early on with a wheelchair, ready to whisk the star player away – but his enthusiasm was quickly dampened as a different-colour-scrubbed nurse declaimed her one disappointing line: “We’re waiting on the pharmacy to send one more pack of pills before we can discharge him.”

Exit porter, ward left – pushing wheelchair.

We waited around. I realised I had put my apron on (insofar as it was on at all) over my coat, and wondered idly why it was that I was not massively over-heated. My previous experience of hospitals was that they were always far too hot. It turned out that the window was pushed open as far as it could go – almost certainly a pandemic precaution – so that explained it. Our star player was wrapped up carefully in a thick dressing gown over his pyjamas, and we managed some chit-chat although, whilst sitting close to the open window may have been Covid-safe, it was also incredibly noisy. We were regularly deafened by the insistent thump-thump-thumping of a demolition vehicle repeatedly smiting a huge pile of ever-decreasing concrete pieces which had once been the hospital stores and delivery bay (I know this, because in a previous incarnation I delivered several boxes of home-sewn scrubs there). No wonder the other (non-starring) patients on the ward remained stoically non-verbal throughout the proceedings, preferring to stay in ‘seriously ill’ character.

By now, I realised that I would need to extend my parking time. Fortunately the friendly app on my phone reminded me and as I shelled out a further 65p, I was able to pat myself on the back once again that this was an absolute bargain.

Eventually, it seemed that my turn had come to play my part. A full set of drugs had materialised, a charming nurse (with a beautiful but sadly non-projecting voice especially through her surgical mask) proceeded to test our hero on his understanding of the dosage of each tablet. My role here, it seemed, was to repeat all questions in a louder but quite definitely not patronising voice, hiding my own irritation that we were still close to the thump-thump-thumping window. How could anyone realistically be expected to hear over that? Still, the next action sequence would be more exciting, and as a second porter – much larger than the first – hove into view, we readied ourselves expectantly.

Sadly, the props department had failed us and the porter had arrived without his wheelchair. He ambled away, muttering forlornly, and we were left to twiddle our thumbs in time to the thump-thump-thump, which was becoming more and more tedious. 

My parking app alerted me again and I fed it another 65p – perhaps slightly less enthusiastically than last time.

FINALLY – the larger porter returned with an actual functioning wheelchair, we loaded up and set off triumphantly up the corridor, our hero graciously waving farewells to the lovely nurses. Remaining firmly in character, I tried to explain where exactly I was parked. After several misunderstandings – no NOT the front of the hospital, no NOT in the sexual health clinic car park (might that have actually been even cheaper? – note to self to check for any next time) – it transpired that the porter was partially deaf. (Perhaps he had been working too close to the demolition site. Thump-thump-thump…) This was indeed strange dialogue.

The porter turned out to be a natural with the wheelchair and also a canny navigator. Once we had our destination agreed, he spirited us through ‘staff only’ lifts and subterranean corridors, from which we rapidly emerged, blinking, into the light  – to find my car not twenty yards away. Offsite yes, but perfectly located and with the passenger door splendidly accessible for our be-wheel-chaired star. Oh hurrah!

And cut!

You may be thinking this was an odd Supporting Artist performance. Well, yes I suppose it was, but I must now own up to the fact that, whilst I suppose I was indeed ‘supporting’, the only artistry (or acting) required on this occasion was for me to play the part of someone who can actually go into a hospital ward without passing out! A self-confidence trick, if you like. For which I reckon I would be due an Oscar or an Emmy, if they had not recently been so devalued.

For this was not a fortuitous Supporting Artist job, but a favour to provide a lift for a friend.

Whom I have now unexpectedly seen in his pyjamas. (Do they not allow going-home clothes any more?)

Oh well, he’s now also seen me ludicrously dressed up like this – so we’re probably evens.

Oops, I did it again!

Another driving-in-the-dark escapade around the M25 – in the other direction today – to make a 6.15am call time for a different scene of the same production. That’s a full hour and a half later than last time’s ridiculous start, and there was no fog. 

And – hurrah! – today I had checked beforehand:

a) exactly how to operate the headlight full-beam, and 

b) where the heater dial is located.

It was consequently a less stressful experience from a driving perspective. Although the air temperature on my journey was warmer than it had been on the previous trip, the standing around on set was considerably colder. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place shaking with cold, when pretending it was a balmy September day. This has reminded me that I really should have treated my weepy eyes by now. The constant streaming from my right eye added to the condensation behind the regulation masks we all wore between takes (ie. for hours!), making a soggy mess of my face. I guess it didn’t matter – they have decided not to give me any make-up, as I am clearly radiant enough already (LOL), so there was nothing other than my own super-strength waterproof mascara to spoil.

What struck us particularly, as we were mini-bussed back to our car park in the early afternoon, was how beautiful the surroundings were in the slanty-sunlight. Lucky to be released before it got dark again – we would otherwise have missed a treat. It was just impenetrable black and muddy this morning.

Of course, I am contractually obliged to keep secret the production on which I am now a ‘regular’ (haha – twice already and next week too, regular?), but suffice to say I am VERY EXCITED. 

And COVID-tested to within an inch of my life.

SA crisis

All of a sudden my inbox has been flooded with availability requests for film and TV work as a Supporting Artist (SA). SAs were previously known as ‘Extras’ – do keep up!

Although I’ve worked on a few film projects over the past few years, these have mostly been non-paying jobs on small-budget productions – all enjoyable and interesting. I found these jobs through an agency for which I pay a small annual fee. (Here’s an example from an earlier blog)

I also joined a larger agency platform which is used by higher profile film companies and I’ve been put forward for a few jobs in the past, but never been cast. This suddenly changed last week. With just one day’s notice, I was ‘cast’ on a big Netflix production and found myself at a large studio complex being Covid-tested, then costume-fitted and hair-styled.

This is all a great deal less glamorous than some of it might sound. For example, I spent most of last Thursday morning sitting in my car in a Civic Offices car park across the road from the studio complex, between a brief visit to a dedicated portakabin for my PCR test (this was my first test administered by anyone other than myself and was far less unpleasant than I had expected) and a slightly longer period in another portakabin being hair-‘styled’ for my role.

I was also fitted for some mid-1990s clothing. My gentle protestations that ‘I would never have worn this’ were met by a reminder that I would be playing my current age and not the age I actually was in the 1990s. Of course, I should be channeling my mother – or, in this case, due to the  political leanings of my character, my mother-in-law. That made things a little easier, although I could not fully reconcile myself to the lemon-yellow anorak eventually selected. I’m pretty sure my M-I-L would have baulked at that too.

After one intervening trip for a second Covid test (we get paid for this, and I was thrilled to find that my old person’s freebie travel card got me all the way there and back for such a short middle-of-the-day visit), the day of filming arrived. I say ‘day’ – but in fact it was really still the night…

I find myself hurtling round the M25 at 4am – having risen at 02.50 in order to throw some clothes on, drink as much coffee as I felt was safe before a 75 minute drive and stuff everything I could possibly need into my battered old shoulder bag – with the dashboard temperature gauge showing a blue 2 degree reading, patchy fog looming across the lanes every few minutes and with no more than a handful of random lorries to pass. I am terrified. I do not drive in the dark. I see things which are not there, and possibly don’t see some things which are. Or so I have convinced myself over the years and this was an unplanned dramatic return to the experience.

When the call time came through for this filming, with no more than 9 hours notice, I was horrified to see that it was for 04.45. I’m not sure how many times I double/triple/etc checked the email. I couldn’t very well ask Mr J to drop me off. He may be very obliging, but that would have been pushing my luck. 

It seems that my lack of practice at driving in the cold and dark was about to catch up with me. Once I had successfully negotiated a slip-road onto an A road, I appeared totally incapable of finding the headlight full-beam. I knew where it should be, but somehow I was too clumsy to make the correct stalk-flicking motion – quite possibly because my hands were so cold by this stage due to my additional inability to operate the heater, such that the temperature gauge was quite likely correct for both exterior and interior.

The last straw was finding myself on a tiny one-way road which was apparently property of the Ministry of Defence. I had programmed the sat-nav with a postcode given to me by the production company, and the address given was an RAF base. We were told to follow the LOC-Cars signs. Frankly, these were tiny (in the pitch dark and fog of the nighttime) and easy to mix up with others saying LOC-base, LOC-something else, and I may have been deceived by one, but I made a swift right turn only to realise that the cars which had been following me had continued on the larger B-road and I was now forging my own lonely (and possibly trespassy) way across a bleak ink-black estate. Hopeless. I’ll never make it on time now, my TV career is over and I may even be prosecuted for dangerous driving (as I was still flicking the full-beam flasher on and off between changing gears with the same frozen hand, no doubt with lunatic strobe effect).

Miraculously, I emerged onto a slightly larger lane and my sat-nav, which had been ruminating uncommunicatively since I struck off the B-road (no doubt due to MoD internet-jamming), sprang back into life to announce that I had arrived at my destination – and to my confused shock and delight, I spotted a field alongside me with arc-lights, a massive marquee and a stream of other cars coming from the opposite direction being marshalled by high-vis-jacketed crew. Relief! And I was bang on time – nothing short of a miracle.

I still don’t actually know how I got there. I mean, I find it hard enough normally to get out of bed for 8am let alone not long after midnight. It is quite surreal and should very probably not be repeated. I am thinking of my motorway panic as my ‘SA crisis’ – strangely timed at a similarly ungodly hour as my many undergraduate essay crises all those years ago.

I’ll continue as an SA – it’s fascinating to watch the actors and crew at work, and a buzz to be a tiny part of it all. But I think I’ll try and choose more carefully to avoid any more horrendous crack-of-sparrows journeys.

Or maybe I could just learn how to operate the car properly.




I can’t recall ever going on a march or protest. I’ve never really been passionate enough about anything to remonstrate with authority so publicly. I’ve maybe signed the odd petition in my time, but that’s the limit. I even refuse to comment on social media if I think what I’m saying may in some way be held as a ‘political view’, and I’m wary of taking a stance on anything (ok, perhaps less wary these days – why the hell am I writing a blog in that case? Ah, but no-one reads it…so that’s not a problem then.)

Yesterday, however, I was part of an Irish anti-abortion protest. As the sun set over a north-west London school playground, I was yelling a slogan in my loudest cod-Irish accent at some poor young girl trying to access ‘the clinic’.

Yes, this was one of my occasional appearances in the world of film (or fillum in this case): a powerful short film, aiming to explore the continuing difficulties faced in Ireland by those seeking to terminate a pregnancy even though the national law was changed a couple of years ago following a public vote. As is usual when performing a Supporting Artist role, I only got to see a very small portion of the production in the making, but we were given the context beforehand. I believe the filmmakers to be in favour of abortion rights, and certainly against the fake clinics* which have apparently appeared in Ireland since the legalisation of abortion. The premise for my scene was that I was part of a group of protesters outside one of these clinics and we were chanting and shouting at a poor young actress who was trying to get into the clinic. 

Some of us had been given in advance a line to shout randomly during the protest. Others chanted together. At the last minute, we were asked to ensure we used our best Irish accents. Aaargh! Just three angry words – in an Irish accent – how hard could that be? Well, if the film ever sees the light of day, then we may be able to judge that.

As usual, we were kept waiting for hours before our main scene was shot, but then it got exciting. In fact, it left me exhilarated and hoarse after all the shouting – through several takes and different camera angles. Also rather unnerved by how close the camera had come at times – swooping right in our faces – as I angrily gurned and screamed Oirishly into the middle distance whilst waving my Pro-life placard.

Oh god, will this somehow be my legacy? A shameful clip on the socials? – as if anyone would notice or care, but still… Or is this how I am discovered as a super-extra? The beginning of an acting career (lol)? As if! 

A bewildering experience in fact. Screaming something I don’t believe, to further the cause of something I more probably do. And I suppose it’s just strange anyway: hours of waiting around in a smart school in a previously unknown part of London, followed by such an outburst.

The worst and weirdest part was having to make small talk for a sound pick-up at the very end of the day. ‘Just pretend you protesters are chatting among yourselves about how the day is going – oh, and don’t forget those Irish accents!’ Now, it’s one thing to hone three words in an approximation of a Dublin voice, but altogether another to witter on for 2 whole minutes to a complete stranger (from Hertfordshire, as it happens) as though we were well-acquainted Dubliners. Hysterical!

Better than sitting at home doing nothing though.

This was the last scene to be shot and, when complete, the director was very pleased and everyone burst into happy applause. It’s a wrap! Several of us trundled off to the tube station as darkness fell, and the moon shone over Wembley arch as we travelled companionably south continuing our chat, no longer constrained by accents but challenged for comprehension by our obedient use of face-masks.  

*such clinics are said to have been set up in Ireland to lure unsuspecting women along under false pretences of being a place where abortion is available, and then pressure them unpleasantly to change their minds and keep their babies.

Follow one crying eye on