Last Updated on January 7, 2024
I stumbled across this text when going through the archives of my zine Beat Motel. I wrote this in January 2008 (I think). I recognise the story of getting stuck in an NCP Car Park as something I refined and published at the time. I’m dumping thee rest of the text here so I don’t lose it.
The notes at the end were from a job I did as a theatre tech in Dubai. I intended to write a short book about it but never got around to it!
Pyjama man, indiscriminate unlabelled knobs, polystyrene logs and a foggy island in the desert…
I’ve been an IT consultant for about eight years. I have been self employed for about five years. I’m not bragging, in fact I make very little money but choose the job I do as a celebration of freedom. I have no desire to own a fast car, a bigger house and enjoy working at home for myself because it gives me a lot of autonomy over how varied my working life is. I won’t go into the long list of what I actually do for a living but let’s just say it’s pretty varied. The other reason I mention working in IT is to try and impress on you the sense of adventure that being in this line of work instils in you. This may be of some surprise to anyone that still views IT boffins as pale faced social misfits hidden in dark rooms tittering at noobs and enjoying never ending nasal conversations about the development of the ZX81. The truth of being in IT is that when you face a problem you only know the solution 5% of the time. This helps one develop a quick wit for getting out of stressful situations like sitting in front of the computer of a Managing Director and explaining that they may well have just lost the report they had been typing for the last few days. Actually as a side note in my experience the typing speed of anyone above lower middle management tends to be about the same as the running speed of a newly born calf, and much more wobbly. So working in IT makes you creative and adventurous, which is why so many IT bods are in bands! This spirit of jumping in at the deep end may explain why I accepted the challenge that started off as being casually thrown across a pub table to me and ended up with me travelling to the Middle East. But first here’s a little back story…
My brother in law is Mark. Mark is an actor. Mark isn’t a luvvy. Mark has spent years making a living from acting, and if you know any actors you’ll know how remarkable that fact alone is. One way of staying busy if you are an actor is to start your own theatre company so you can give yourself acting jobs. In 2006 Mark (Curtis if you want to look him up) and Kevin (Watts if you want to look him up) starred together in a production of One Flew over the Cuckoos next in Catford in London. Unfortunately some chap called Christian Slater decided to do the same thing in the West End at the same time, but that’s neither here nor there. Maybe it was that Mark and Kevin clicked immediately, maybe it was the fact that both enjoy the occasional snifter of lager or maybe it’s the fact both can argue the toss about Star Wars with little or no provocation, whatever it was they decided to form their own theatre company. Yaller Skunk Theatre Company formed and Mark and Kevin immediately set about producing their first production. Like most actors Mark likes what we could call ‘difficult’ roles. Mark has spent years in schools tackling topics like date rape, immigration, drugs and the holocaust. Mark is most certainly not afraid of a challenge. After playing a stammering shuddering mental patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest followed by a part as a bible clutching American in a gritty play based on the true account of Brian Keenan’s experiences as a hostage in Lebanon Mark and I were discussing his next move over a beer at his parents house in Peterborough. After discussing the various merits of the challenging emotional dramas that he had been favouring of late I requested that he do a comedy. Or at least something that didn’t involve death, rape, captivity, genocide or pantomime in large measures. Yes, like all serious actors Mark does pantomime. A few weeks later I got a call from a very excited and animated Mark telling me that Yaller Skunk would be putting on the play ‘Neville’s Island’ a comedy! I know he was animated because I could here him shuffling around his flat in Crystal Palace. The play would open in the studio space of the Catford Broadway in London and run for two weeks, followed by the potential of something very special indeed.
The life of a working actor is a very transient one. Since leaving college in Leicester Mark hasn’t lived anywhere for more than a year (often much less) and has been up and down the country more times than foot and mouth scare stories and has toured more than the Rolling Stones. Well maybe not the Rolling Stones, but more than insert name of current rising Indie beat combo. The life of an actor can take you to such faraway places with strange sounding names as Ely, Wolverhampton, Bognor and Dubai. Yes, Dubai. In a stark opposite to what the Daily Mail would have you believe the British people may well love their country, but appear to think nothing of buggering off to another country with the promise of a fat paycheque and low taxes. One of the current favourite destinations is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Comparatively recently in 1971 there was little other than sand in Dubai, not as oil rich as neighbouring countries like Kuwait and not as forward thinking as nearby Abu Dhabi it was quite happy to go along with joining forces with six of it’s neighbours and form what was to become The United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a federal framework sharing legal, political, military and economic functions with Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Lacking almost entirely in natural resources Dubai has built her wealth on banking and financial products. Anyway, enough of the history lesson. Mark had previously worked in Dubai running acting workshops for the large number of English speaking Dubai residents. Mark mentioned Neville’s Island to his contact Phillipe who ran the theatre company (Streewise Fringe) that had booked him. Mark’s unique ability to sell anything worked, and it was decided that after two weeks in Catford Neville’s Island would transfer to Dubai!
On hearing that Mark had secured another job in the dessert I jokingly told Mark I should go along, yer know, just to keep an eye on him. A couple of weeks later he called my bluff and told me I was booked to go with him and the rest of the cast just a few weeks later in May. I was a little surprised to say the least. I’ve been playing in bands and putting on gigs since I was forteen years old and told Mark that I appeared to have a natural talent for making stages work smoothly. When I told him I believed it, but having had my bluff called I studied my own abilities closely. Whilst it’s true I can set up a PA in a pub, in reality that tends to be a case of twiddling knobs till feedbacks goes away then retiring to the bar for an evening of doing naff all. I wouldn’t dream of calling myself a sound engineer. Sound engineers are very talented individuals that can hear things us mere mortals can’t, and can fix bad noises using techniques we could never begin to understand. They are truly gifted and worth every penny they earn, and I’m not just saying that because the golden rule of being in a band is ‘never bad mouth the sound engineer’! My role in this globetrotting production was to be that of stage manager. I did the sensible thing and bought a book about stage management from Amazon. Mark assured me that my role would be largely making sure that they had everything they needed on stage as they would be taking the show’s director Rhyss with them to do the complicated stuff like sound and lighting. The next call from Mark was to tell my Rhyss has to be loaded as a Bulishi to make it onto a plane, so would I mind doing the sound and lights…
At the start of the last week of Neville’s Island I went to watch the show as a punter in the cheap seats. To be fair there were only sixty seats and they were all very reasonably priced. The Catford Broadway is an imposing circular building right in the middle of Catford. This theatre sells out night after night putting on Carribean comedies for the largly Carribean population of Catford. A few actors I bumped into had taken parts in these plays and described them as a sort of West Indies pantomime, thick with catchphrases from the old country that had huge capacity audiences literally howling with laughter, stamping their feet and jumping up and down in the isles whilst shouting back what would seem like retorts that have travelled through many generation. So this was the obvious place to put on Neville’s Island, a play about four white middle class, middle management middle aged losers. The space used by Yaller Skunk was the small but perfectly formed studio space below the main auditoriam. I sat down in awed anticipation meaning to watch the play and study all the set changes, but as the lights went down I got totally lost in what I still think is a hilariously emotive play. To my relief there were NO set changes, but to my horror there were many lighting and sound fx changes, each one entirely crucial to the smooth running of the play. Eee gads! I spoke to Mark after the show and we agreed that I would drive up from Ipswich and sit in the control room with the sound and lighting engineer for each performance until the end of the production run. The next day I drove the eighty or so miles from Ipswich to Catford and parked in a free multi-storey car park. Free! The only catch was that I had to get into the car park after 7pm, the play started at 8.30pm, I had tons of time to spare. That first night I waltzed into the theatre and gave a confident nod to the security guard, accompanied by a little too cocky,
“I’m with the band”.
I did of course mean to say I was with the theatre company, but assuming this security guitar had never read the book ‘I’m with the band’ by super groupie Pamela Debarres I figure I got away without looking like some sort of theatre groupie man-whore. The inside of the Broadway was a fantastically non-sensicle maze of meandering corridors and flights of stairs. It was like the innards of the great old building had been tinkered, renovated and adjusted so many times the soul of the building had developed organisational and directional senility many years ago. The theatre staff however couldn’t do enough to help me, which is very kind considering I must have walked past their office asking directions at least five times. Five times within ten minutes of arriving that is. If you’ve seen the film Spinal Tap think of the scene when they are trying to find their way to the stage. This experience was like that only with less lycra, no film crew, less hair and was in London not the USA. So you can think of it but it won’t help you relate to me wandering the narrow corridors of the Broadway like an imbecile! After about half an hour of gradually walking these corridors with an incremental level of urgency I stumbled upon something I wasn’t expecting to see. After bursting through a surprisingly heavy I found myself outside! I turned back and pushed through what I thought was the same door only to find myself marooned on the smallest island in the lake district. On further exploration of the back stage area I found the props table, an intricately laid out grid of around forty different small props and two huge rucksacks, one of which was mine. As I studied this product of remarkable organisation I started to recognise more and of the items as belonging to me! It turns out when Mark had asked if he could borrow ‘a few things’ recently he cleared out most of our camping equipment! One thing I don’t remember lending him was the huge headless dead white falcon I saw before me, it’s a amazing what you can do with paper maché and a sick mind for detail! The stage set was a collection of about eight low staging tables making a raised area about three metres square which was raised about forty centrementres off the floor. Surrounding this was a large amount of slowly decaying greenery that turned out to be the contents of several local skips! The front of this raised area had a couple of steeply sloping ramps leading down to a small gravel beach. The audience sat about one metre from this beach adding to the intimate atmosphere of the production. I’ve got to admit if I walk into a theatre there are obvious signs of obligatory crowd interaction I can escape quicker than OJ Simpson. There was no such crowd interaction in Neville’s Island, well there was laughter but a distinct lack of singalongs and watch smashing magic tricks. Thank goodness. Still unaware of whether the rest of the cast knew of my lack of experience, and not wanting to spook them just before a performance I wandered about the stage inspecting things in much the same way as I would inspect an Elephant should I be required to for some reason. I looked everything up and down, checked under the stage and blew down the trunk. At the rear of the stage there was a paddling pool full of feculent water. At the start of the play the cast drag themselves on stage as if they have just been shipwrecked, in a rowing boat. The realism of the foul funk of this water was nothing if not authentic. Mark walked out from back stage and tipped a bucket of water into the murky greenness, I involuntarily backed off expecting a reaction similar to tipping too many different bleaches into one toilet. If you’ve never tried that then I can strongly recommend against it. If you ever find yourself in the position of being a curator of a bog of eternal stench brand paddling pool then I can also recommend against stiring it up with a bucket of water. I ambled backstage to introduce myself to cast. On walking into the small hot room I was hit with a gut wrenching smell that triggered some sort of base instinct so escape. Half way through making that important first impression I backed out of the room coughing and holding my mouth and nose. I gingerally stuck my head back through the door,
“Fugsake Mark, you taken off your shoes or something?”
Everyone laughed, and I realised why that paddling pool looked so bad. It’s time I properly introduced you to the cast that you’ll be getting to know throughout the rest of this tale;
Co-founded of Yaller Skunk Theatre Company, northern sounding chap with enough hair for at least two of three people.
Very friendly mildly camp chap with a love for musical theatre. A great character actor who got his first job aged five in a supporting role for Paula Yate’s alleged father.
Trained at the Bristol Old Vic doncha know, great childlike chap who I inexplicably call Martin for the first week I know him.
My brother in law, can grow a full bushy beard in under half an hour!
As show time neared I made my way to the control room and sat waiting for the professional who was running tonight’s show to turn up an explain what the terrifyingly complicated range of knobs and dials that filled the room did. The equipment looked much like the kind of gear that controlled German submarines in the first world war. The back of room was a waist high platform stacked up with old bits of lighting gear, colour ‘gels’ (coloured bits of plastic for lights) and empty crisp packets, mostly mine. That dark musty room was half school stock cupboard and half Das Boot. The mustiness was entirely Mark’s feet. On the desk/ old kitchen worktop at the front of the control room was a photocopied script in a ringbinder marked with more notes than a tenth generation English Literature text book, each one noted a lighting or sound cue. My heart sank a little. Then the influence of calm enthusiasm reassured me it was all very easy really. The influence was the professional lighting and sound guy George. George is fourteen years old when I first meet him, he is the smartest fourteen year old on the planet. Seriously. He shows me what every part of the lighting and sound console does, explains the house lighting and demonstrates how the sound fx cue machine works. I nod along with his words with one eyebrow raised to show concentration, and instantly forget everything he is trying to teach me. I fall back on the fact I am at least twice this chaps age and with utterly shallow authority inform him that I’d like him to run the show tonight, I’ll watch from the back of the room. Whilst making myself a little nest from which to watch the show I was a little alarmed to see a huge lighting console in the back of the room. I asked George what it was for, he nonchanantly told me if was the ‘spare’. The lighting console that was in use had what looked like hundreds of cables running out of it. I found myself wondering how long the actors could stand stock still on stage if I had to change the console. I figured it would be a good long while, but they would never lose a game of musical statues as long as they lived. The double glazed window at the front of the control room didn’t actually face the stage, it afforded panoramic views of the fire escapes to stage left. Only through the slight gap in the hinge of the window gave a glimpse of the actors and the double glazing was pretty effective at muffling the dialogue. George informed me this window had to be shut the majority of the time to stop the stage smoking setting off the control room smoke detector. Marvellous. I spend the first half of the play watching George’s every move like a hawk and straining to hear the muffled actors and following along on my copy of the script! George sat on the broken school chair with the cd cue machine and small audio mixing desk slightly to his right and with a rack of equipment just behind them. The lighting desk was conveniently to his left, and about two feet behind him. I later found out this meant that when triggering the lights for mission critical parts of the play you had to turn so you couldn’t actually see the stage, let alone hear it. Directly in front of George was a well thumbed and dog eared and annotated photocopy of the script in a ring binder. Calling this script lightly annotated is like calling someone with ten kids a fan of childbirth. The first time I picked up this technical copy of the script I had an overwhelming sense of empathy and sympathy for the archeologists first tasked with translating the hyraglyfics in Tutan Kharmuns tomb! As the first half the play progressed my stress levels subsided as I realised that the bulk of George’s work involved pressing play on the CD cue to trigger subtle sound effects and pressing a single button on the lighting console to progress the lights through a pre-set sequence, albeit with one arm twisted behind his back like some sort of losing wresting move. At the end of the first half as the audience shuffled off for Ice Creams and booze I remarked to George that it all seemed fairly straight forward and easy.
“Oh, the first half is easy, the second half is where is gets tricky!”
I raised an eyebrow to show I was paying attention.
As the play drew to an end George morphed before my eyes into a swirling button pressing fader pulling genius octopus as he created what I fully believe was a genuine firework display right there in that little studio theatre in a basement in Catford. At the end of the play I applauded enthisicastically, for George. By way of returning the compliment George asking if I’d picked it all up as he wanted the next night off. I raised both eyebrows.
Thankfully George did come in the following night and ran the sound while I prodded cautiously at the lighting desk as if at any moment it might send me a life shortening electric shock. With a billion thoughts racing round my head I wandered through the empty and unwelcoming streets of Catford back to the multi-story car park to hop into my car and listen to The Sword at full blast whilst I careered back down the A12 and home. As I mentioned earlier in this tale the car park is free as long as you arrive after 7pm. On this particular evening I wanted some extra prod practice time on the lighting desk so I had turned up and parked a few minutes before 7pm, I figured paying for parking would be well worth if for the extra practice if would buy me. As I walked up to the grim dark grey concrete mass of the cark park bower I reached into my pockets for the change I would need for the machine. In a move I later realise was in itself a shocking cliché I stopped dead in my tracks as I noticed a huge metal shutter had been pulled over the cash machine, completely obscuring it. I felt a slight sinking feeling as I looked around the car park for another machine, there was one, but that too was closed for business. Feeling optimistic due to the fact I’d done fairly well running the play that night I decided to hop in my car and try my ticket in the machine next to the barrier to get out. I forget the exact message, but it was something along the lines of,
“Pay at machine before exit”,
Fair enough, so I drove around each of the four floors of the car park looking for another machine. Much like my seventeen years in the education system, this path bore no fruits. With my pulse quickening slightly I returned to the ground floor and continued my search on foot. As I studied every of the exterior perimeter of the car park for another pay machine the time was fast approaching midnight as the littered shabby streets of Catford were looking less than welcoming. Some towns are blessed by the dark of night, for example Peterborough and Milton Keynes look a lot better in the pitch dark, or if you shut your eyes. Catford is utterly bleached with streetlight and shutting your eyes would probably only invite an enthusiastic mugging. Well probably not, but the stark thrown together botched architecture of Catford does little for it’s personality. As an old boss of mine in London once said when I told him I was heading up to work in a theatre in Catford,
“Your only go down to Catford!”
The extraordinary security measures installed at the car park did little to convince me of the safety of the area. Most NCP car parks have fairly flimsy barriers that I’ve since learned you can just drive through should you get trapped. Catford NCP has very solid barriers, a two foot high metal obstacle that pops out of the ground and should you get past that then there’s some large metal spike in the road to rip open your tires. I should say at this point I’m not exactly a proud car owner. I have squeezed previous cars into tight parking spaces by bouncing them off conveniently placed concrete bollards. Whilst that may be a semi-interesting historic fact, grounding my current car on a half metre high black and yellow striped solid lump of steel wasn’t going to help the situation at all. As tends to happen in these situations I decided to laugh in the face of learning from experience. I ignored the fact that I had already driven around the entire car park looking for an exit or pay machine and decided to try it again. Maybe I had missed an open pay machine whilst concentrating on a tricky corner. Maybe I had passed out entirely one of the floors, my out of control car finding the next floor purely by gravitational chance, regaining consciousness at that exact moment, and failing to note my brief absence from normality. One very slow and studious trundle around each of the four near identical grey concrete floors later and I concluded that I hadn’t passed out previous tour, there really was no way out. As I repositioned the car pointing at the exits, and in front of as many CCTV cameras I switched off my engine and decided to take a logical and calm look for a way out of spending the night in a multi-story car park in London. Instead of that my brain decided it needed some light relief and decided to throw a mischievous spanner in my logic gears.
When I was a teenager I saw a late night short film, not extraordinary I’ll grand you, but relevant none the less. In the film a young chap had returned to his car after a late night out only to find the car park was empty and the gates were locked. Now it came as no surprise this memory was coming to me, after all I was locked in a car park late at night, and the car park I was in happened to be empty. Damn, the car park I’m in is empty! Why didn’t this strike me as odd beforehand? Here I was in one of the most overpopulated cities in the planet, in one of the most densely populated areas of London, so where were all the other cars that should be parked here? There were so many flats nearby that surely the residents would chose to leave their cars somewhere secure? There was certainly nowhere on the streets that a Catford chap could leave their automobile overnight? This place was so built up I half expected to see triple yellow lines! I sunk in my seat until only top of my head was showing above the window line and foolishly let my memory refresh me on the details of the aforementioned short film. In much the same way I had, the character in the film spent a while driving up and down every floor of the car park trying to find an exit. Much like I had, he had stopped at the very top of the car park to mutter unplesantries. However, on the return trip to the ground floor he had let his mind wander as he searched for a mobile phone and wasn’t paying much attention to how many floors he had passed. He eventually found his mobile phone and with a gasp he slammed on the brakes. The battery was dead. I smiled smugly as I reached for my left pocket, the exact spot I knew my fumbling fingers would find my beat up old mobile friend. The smugness didn’t last long. I had just one bar of battery strength left and virtually no signal. I felt a little like my lifeline to the outside world was slipping out of my fingers, much like Leonardo De Caprio when he slips from the raft at the end of the film Titanic. Only with less icy water and without the inconvenience of being an American trying to attempt an accent I barely understand. I sunk a little further into my seat as my memory played out the end sequence of the film. In desperation the man in the film resolved to ram the barriers on the ground floor and escape to freedom. He was lucky not to be in Fort Catford high security NCP. With the squeal of his tires echoing across the car park our hero sped down the never ending tarmac corkscrew exit ramp, passing floor after floor of empty car park, ever increasing his speed in order to smash through the barriers. Any thoughts of keeping his no claims bonus fled from his mind as he prepared to escape this grey purgatory. After a few minutes (and more than a few close up shots of his front tires howling around the perpetual left turns coupled with another close of a very sweaty brow) something odd happened. It made him jump, it made the teenage me jump! The passenger side (none of that offside/ nearside rubbish here thank you very much) wing mirror struck the wall and was ripped off in a hail of shattered safety glass and splintered plastic. Realising his madness the driver slows to a crawl, assuming his speed to be the cause of the accident. Within seconds the drivers side mirror starts to scuff of the wall, he corrects his path only for the front bumper on the other side of his vehicle to come into contact with the wall. The increasingly irate man yanks the steering wheel to correct his path again only for the other bumper to hit the other wall. He brings the car to a calm stop and after a few deep breaths decides to get out of the car and get some fresh air, he needs to calm down, and fast. As he opens the door it almost immediately clunks against the wall. With a nervous chuckle he leans over and tries the passenger door. Clunk. His pulse races and his breathing becomes fast and shallow as it dawns on him what is wrong. The car park only had seven, maybe ten floors. He had been so angry as he hurtled down the ramps that he hadn’t noticed that he had passed maybe four or five times that number of floors. With some speedy reversing that I had never seen outside The Sweeny he rammed the car backwards up the spiral ramp, caring not that between the narrow walls his beloved motor was bouncing back and forth like a pinball does for a deaf dumb and blind kid. With a defeated yelp he hits the brakes and slumps over the steering wheel, gently sobbing. There was now no other choice, he had to continue down the ramp. With another deep sigh, and another nervous chuckle he slips the car into first gear, and it dies. Looking down at the fuel gage the corners of his mouth turn down as he realises he’s out of petrol. Easing off the brakes he allows the car to roll forwards down the ramp. The exit will be at the bottom, he knows he came in on ground floor, after all, that’s traditional with multi-story car parks. Sure enough some horrid department store could be on floor four, with kitchen appliance department on fifth, but the entrance was always on the ground floor. Wasn’t it? The car rolls on, down and down. The ramp is getting narrower and the sides of the car are now continuously grinding against the cold grey walls. The grinding of metal on concrete providing the only sound in this dark, silent place. By now the walls are so closed in that there’s really no need to steer. As our man slumps back in his seat the car comes to a definite halt. Stuck. Wedged completely and utterly. He sits up with a start, there is a wall ahead. No more road, no more spiral. He peers into the darkness, scanning the walls for an exit of some kind. He wipes the sweat from his eyes, there must be an exit. There isn’t, but there is some writing scrawled across the full width of the wall ahead. He hadn’t taken it in whilst searching for a way out. He pulled back on the indicator stalk to bathe the wording in light;
“ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF GOD SITS SATAN”.
At this exact moment in my recollection I decided to get out of the car. I wanted to make a reverse charges phone call at the phone box I had spotted on my way in. Partly in an attempt to get help, but embarrassingly enough partly to make sure I could actually leave the car park.
I wandered through the eerily still shopping precinct, and across a large open courtyard to the phone box. There was a large advert stuck to the glass of the phone box advertising some banana flavoured non-dairy milk drink. As with a lot of these large adverts the design was made up of a series of thin strips of horizontal plastic that give the illusion (from a distance) that the image is in fact solid. However there appeared to be something wrong with this particular advert. I still don’t understand how, but this particular advert had the curious flaw of being inside the phonebox rather than outside. This meant that whilst using the phone I was on display to any potential mugger and/ or lunatic with malice, and conveniently illuminated to boot! Thanks to this error in plastic I would also be blind to the goings on outside the box and any approaching attacker. It would facilitate a fantastic element of surprise, for the attacker. I rang my wife Emma, and showing an impressive amount of lucidity for this hour past midnight she made sympathetic noises as I explained it wasn’t looking like I was going to make it home that night. She suggested calling the police. I explained that I had been put off making non-emergency calls to the cops as a young child. It was possibly a result of the day a big scary bastard of a policeman came into primary school and told us never to make non-emergency calls to the cops. These things have a habit of sticking with you for life. Thanks to Charlie the cat I am still reluctant to take sweeties off strange men, and I haven’t seen any puppies since the age of about seven. After some assurances that I wouldn’t be eaten by wolves I let Emma go back to sleep. I decided to chance my mobile phone battery and called my brother in law Mark. After all he lived in London and had only left the theatre about an hour ago and must be home by now. He could tell me which bus or tube to catch in order to spend the night in his cosy flat. Sadly it turned out that unlike New York, London was a city that did sleep. There were no buses and no tube trains. This was it, I now only had one option. In what must have been the most slouching, foot dragging walk I have made since early puberty I made my way back to the car. I was soundly regretting my decision to leave the house that night wearing only a thin zipped hoodie and a short sleeve tee shirt. I also had less than a pound in my pocket and no food or drink. My very first car was a Vauxhall Chevette and was so astoundingly unreliable that I used to drive around with a sleeping bag in the boot just in case of an unexpected sleepover on the roadside somewhere. Sadly this was a habit that died out some ten years ago and I was facing a cold night without so much as a coat to keep me warm. An unfortunate theme that runs through my history of car ownership is my uncanny ability to buy car stereos on which the radio packs up just a few weeks past the end of the warranty. This car was no exception. So I had no money, no warmth, very little petrol, no food or water and not even any entertainment.
After about an hour of sitting in my (now locked) car and staring at the exit to the car park I decided drastic action was called for. I wandered over to the exit barrier and pressed the button marked ‘assistance’. Now you might be wondering why I didn’t try this before, but there’s just something about being upper lower middle class that compels you not to ‘bother’ people. I felt the prospect of spending the next five hours held against my will by the evil NCP corporation justified bothering someone. The button made a gargled buzz. An often overlooked aspect of the conditioning that we call modern life is the assumption that a buzzer means something good. It means you’re making progress, it means that a situation will shortly be resolved thanks to the proactive action you have taken by pressing a button. I guess one exception to this rule would be if you were a prisoner on death row, then I image the sound of a buzzer would be most horrid, albeit not for more than a few minutes. This buzzer lied. It lied so badly it must have made baby Jesus cry. After a great deal of button jabs and deceitful buzzing nothing had happened at all. No distance voice had appeared through the rusting speak to leap to my aid. Not even trying to bash out a rudimentary (and admittedly monotone) tune on the buzzer could life my spirits and I turned to return to my car. It was just then I remembered the many CCTV cameras that surrounded me. The large sign on the walls proudly declared that this car park was monitored twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Mind you, it also mentioned hourly security patrols. I had been here for over two hours and only seen three living things. The first was a middle aged gent walking his dog, when I approached him asking for help I guess he reacted badly to being approached by a bloke over six feet tall wearing black trousers, big boots and a black hooded top and quickened his pace to fashion an escape. The third living thing had been a feral Fox, but he wasn’t any help at all, in fact he looked more miserable that I was! I positioned myself in front of the nearest camera and using the fact I was once fluent in sign language explained the situation on the off-chance that there was an operator on shift tonight who also used to be fluent in sign language. Unsurprisingly nothing happened. I figured that the eagle eyed operator had probably spotted me but didn’t understand that I was trapped. Or maybe they did and had gathered round their colleagues to giggle at the flickering image of me on their screens.
“Look at him now Bill, he’s doing that thing with his hands the small folk do on the corner of the screen on them odd programs they make for deaf folk!”
Well if they weren’t going to react to my feebleness maybe they would react to a bit of mindless vandalism. I could pretend that I was about to smash something up and then they would HAVE to act! I looked across the car park sarcophagus to my ancient Honda Aerodeck Estate and decided they’d never fall for me attacking that. It was so knackered it looked like it had rolled off the production line with a kitsch distressed look. I turned to an illuminated bollard and prepared to do some damage. My logic was that I have a clean police record, surely these are extenuating circumstances and any judge in the land would appreciate that I just wanted to get on the road and travel the hundred miles home! After a few possibly over dramatic practice kicks in the air I gritted my teeth, swung my leg back and prepared to both start and finish the worlds shortest career in vandalism. The upper lower middle class genes kicked in again and I swung my leg away from the bollard, causing me to nearly lose my balance and land on my arse. If those CCTV operators were still watching they were probably grabbing blank tapes to send this sorry episode into some tacky CCTV clip show by now! I couldn’t do it, if I did smash something it would probably ruin the day of some poor bugger that would have to clear up it, explain it to their boss and doubtless fill out a form to order a replacement. Sometimes I’m just too nice.
I dropped the back seats of my estate car and climbed in. As I lay flat in the car I reached over and locked the doors. Any other time I would have found it mildly amusing that I was roughly twenty centimetres too tall to lay straight in the back of this huge car, but I had very little humour left indeed. I tried to get comfortable and get some sleep, but that just wasn’t going to happen. I can normally sleep anywhere at any time, but there’s something about a fluresently lit freezing cold multi-story car park in the bad part of a town that mysteriously keep sleep at bay. I decided to give my phone one last go, a desperate thing to do considering how woefully low the battery now was. I called directory enquires and got the phone number for the head office of NCP Car Parks. Maybe there was a chance they have a small team of angels that work nights just in case someone like me gets trapped? The nice chap at directory enquiries offered to put me straight through to the number he had found, I agreed, then a short message informed me that each remaining minute of the call would cost a painful amount. My mood lifted when I was put through, it was ringing! A rush of adrenaline perked me up, this could be it, I could be out of here really soon! I was feeling positive, and I hadn’t even heard a buzzer. After more rings than was tolerable there was a clunk as the phone was picked up,
“You have reached the offices of National Car Parks PLC, the office is open between standard office hours from Monday to Friday.”
Then the machine hung up. I wasn’t even given the opportunity to leave a snarling message questioning the parentage of the managing director and wishing genital discourtesies upon all involved in allowing a situation like this to evolve.
I slowly reached down to put the phone back in my pocket, then jumped out of my skin as it started to ring. It was the police! They told me that my wife had called then worried sick for my safety and agreed that I wasn’t in the best part of town. They offered me a chair in their waiting room for the night if I could just walk the five miles through the streets to their station. Then they said they understood my battery was low so they would be quick, just before telling me there was absolutely nothing they could do for me, tough shit. Well they didn’t say shit, but they might as well have, and they might as well have thrown some at me for the amount of good they did. However, rapists to catch and all that stuff, why should they care about me? I spent the next fives hours shivering my arse off staring at the ceiling of my car. The monotony only occasionally broken by nearby noises that convinced me I was about to be attacked. What should I do? Should I stay laying flat an hope they didn’t see me or should I lift my head above the window line and get a good look at the assailant but risk being spotted? I decided to stay laying flat. But then I decided the first I was see of my attacker would be either their face or weapon as they loomed up to the window to strike the first killer blow. I decided the best option was to try and keep my eyes closed and hope for a swift merciful death. I was mildly amused that they would only make off with a knackered mobile phone and some maxed out credit cards if I was attacked. Even the car was worth about as much as a child’s scooter!
After what genuinely felt like an eternity (and I will never use that word in vain again) it was 7am and time for the ticket machines to open again. Bang on time a Caribbean chap who must have been near retirement (or had ignored it entirely and just powered through) rolled up in an old van. He glanced over to me sitting cross legged on the bonnet of my car, pale and hunched through cold and lack of sleep and didn’t give me a second glance. It was like he had seen nothing out of the ordinary. He unlocked his bright yellow hut and set about doing whatever it was he needed to before he could perform the essential task of unlocking and winding up the metal shutters on the ticket machine. He seemed to be taking an age, in fact when I gave up waiting and walked over to his hut I swear he was sipping a cup of tea! He hopped out of his hut and started walking with me over to the ticket machine. In a calm tone of voice that owed more to my exhaustion than my mood I explained that I had spent all night unable to leave the car park and return to my home one hundred miles away on the east coast. I fished for some sort of sympathy as I explained the whole no money, no phone no safety situation. He listened dutifully as he set about unlocking the machine that would allow me to buy my freedom before muttering,
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
He then turned and walked back to his hut, seemingly no longer aware of my existence. I fed my parking ticket into the machine and braced myself to find out what hefty sum I owed for the night’s hospitality. What gargantuan sum of money had prevented me from being able to leave? I stared in weary disbelief as the sum of 70p flashed up on the screen. I had just had the coldest night of my life over less than the price of an out of date can of cat food.
It seems a little strange looking back on that evening to think just how terrified I was, and I dare say you (the reader) may be startled at how much off a coward I was, but that night was the slowest and most terrifying seven hours of my life. I was so delirous with the heady taste of freedom on the way home that I even stopped and ate a McDonalds breakfast.
After a couple more shows with the embodiment of calm that was my new mate George shadowing me I finally ran the show myself on the last night. I parked my car in an open air car park with no barriers. The show went really well, and I was feeling a great sense of pride at my accomplishment, right up until the lighting board went apeshit. Some more traditional theatre critics may disgree, but I think an impromptu disco lights party can add something quite special to a dark emotional climax that more traditionally is lit by a single spotlight. George disagreed and uttered a single calm ‘fuck’ as his hands ran over the lighting desk like a pick pocket over an old dear’s handbag as he attempted to rectify the situation.
WRITE ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS ABOUT FLYING
PUT THIS RIGHT AT THE END
I still haven’t gotten round to reading that book about stage management.
Art deco warning film (the plane explodes)
Frequent flyer sign of the cross german woman
The plane is a vibrating tin can
Jade green guard
Kev getting searched for confusing customs about his nationality
Leaving the airport the heat was like getting hit in the face by a bean bag
Phil telling us he’s split up with his wife, odd first meeting
Baseball on TV
Me getting the HUGE room
TGI Fridays with no booze
Our room on 17th floor
Kick door to wake up mark and kev
Phil’s sponsored cleaner with a posh car
Big building site
No animals, apart from one cat
Kid shitting in pool
Cast jumping in pool
Fantastic lunch, indigestion, green room
Everywhere you go in the world is the same when you’re on the crapper
Speed limit beep
People smoke everywhere
Trucks are banned from overtaking
Sold out brilliant audience
Sedate beach party
Phil;ips mini cigars
Tony Hadley and vodka
Club was next to port
Olympic medal standard over sleeping
Horrific death penalty
Sand blistered feet
Bloke diving with fag in his hand
Happy Indians playing drums on drinks bottles
South African singer
Ate far too much
Everyone is relaxed
48oC by pool (on 3rd floor!)
Darren and kev getting away with free net access
Free bottles of wine as we are VIPS, I accidently turn down first one