Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Been a while! A reflection on the continuing busyness of life. Here's what's been going on:

Saturday was busy with two shows and then I went out in the evening to meet my boyfriend who had unexpectedly come down for the day to see friends. Felt like a true Londoner when he was impressed by the fact I found him outside the pub he was at which was miles away from where I was working but the nearest tube station was closed. In fact, I knew the way to walk from the next nearest tube stop as I'd done it before. In my memory, it was a short hop of no more than a few minutes' walk.... but I'd been rather drunk on that occasion. Without a drop of alcohol in the system the road seemed to go on forever, and I felt rather impressed with my previously inebriated self for making it that far. Anyway. Ended up staying at the friends' flat as I realised I hadn't yet figured out the night buses and so couldn't get home. That was fine though!

No work on Sunday compensated very nicely for the previous day's craziness. I finally met my first housemate that morning, who was lovely but explained he's hardly ever in, which explained his absence to date. I met up with my friend and ex-roomie for lunch - oddly almost exactly where I'd been the night before: same walk again- and then later headed back down to Kent. Was very well fed and watered by mummy. The following day (Monday) I came back with the rest of my stuff with the help of my brother.

We have swapped round positions at work this week so I've tried my hand at nearly everything now. Have also had the chance to sit in on most of the show. Can't say I'm overwhelmed by it, but to be fair am yet to actually see the first 40 minutes, which could explain a lot. Disappointing lack of celebrities this week, although I did get tipped yesterday! A whole extra pound makes quite a difference with my wages, believe me!

Met my other housemate finally yesterday too. He's a fine Irish fella' by the name of Cormac. Very nice. Had a good chat with him when I got in tonight too. He explained the difference between Magners and Bulmers ciders to me. 'Oh, interesting!' I said. 'No it's not,' he replied.

Am loving my workmates so much! It's so nice to be working with people my own age, if I haven't said that already, and they are all genuinely so lovely and fun to be with, every last one of them. We've got into a nice routine of going out together between shows on matinee days for food which is fun. Plus there's a big work night out planned after the show tomorrow. The guys are so funny - most of them are actors so tend to be quite entertaining! Unfortunately one of them has started flirting with me a bit though. I'm wondering if saying 'Don't get funny' is an appropriate put down. Ah well, he's harmless enough.

We've had understudies in for the last few days, but the 'real' guy was back today. He's a proper actor, supposedly quite famous although I don't know him. I was working in the stalls tonight and before the house opened I had to check the seats. When I walked in he was on stage doing his warm up. Well, at first I thought he was praying. Then I wondered if there was something wrong with him. Then when I realised, I just had to try not to laugh. His warm up consisted of him contorting into weird positions/lying on his back and making a series of weird humming, squealing, clicking and whooping noises. Strangest thing I've ever seen. You really can't be self-conscious as an actor.

Progress is slow on the cupcake front, although I have been trying. Yesterday I went for a long walk by getting off the tube early at Hyde Park and wandering through to the West End. Hyde Park was simply gorgeous. It was a warm, sunny day and the leaves in the trees were just slightly yellowed. The water in the Serpentine was a beautiful blue and everyone seemed so happy and relaxed. I walked right the way through up Piccadilly and stopped at a place near work for a bite to eat. Then I headed up to a potential cupcake spot at Seven Dials but couldn't find it (I'd been directed there by someone with cupcake knowhow). Ended up in Foyles bookshop (which is MASSIVE) and had a tea in their cafe before work. Their cakes looked good but there were no cupcakes, sadly.

Today was boiling hot! Had to dig out the skirt I hadn't worn since May (the last time we had sun, basically). Didn't have much spare time to enjoy it, sadly, as it was a matinee day. Instead I had some errands to run which involved going to Westfield. When I got there, everyone was standing outside - there had clearly been a fire drill. Bet the staff loved the opportunity to stand outside in the sunshine for a while! I also wanted to book tickets with the BBC to do a tour. I went in there but couldn't was told I couldn't book tickets directly with them - instead had to phone their office in Scotland. Madness.

Between shifts today we managed to make the most of the weather by having dinner in a little park nearby. It was lovely :) Experimented with the buses on the way home tonight to avoid the tubes, which lately have been roughly around the temperature of the sun's core.

Ellen's coming tomorrow! We're going to see 'Losing It' and then she's staying over. Can't wait!

Off to Croatia in a week, bizarrely! It's come round so quickly. We booked it thinking it would be nice to get some sunshine in before the winter. The forecast for England this week suggests that wasn't necessary - but of course I'm so excited about going away. We're staying in Dubrovnik and it all sounds amazing.

I'm leaking money left right and centre but it's all worth it!

Beautiful, sunny Hyde Park:

Cute bundle of ducklings!:

Friday, 23 September 2011

Garden Mole

So, have been in the new place for a day now and am settling in, having spent my first night and half a day here. Still haven't met new housemates though which is weird. Although one of them obviously felt comfortable enough with me to use my toothpaste this morning. Hm. I wouldn't mind too much, although being as I haven't met him yet I felt this a little cheeky. As long as it doesn't scale up to stealing food, I'll let him off.

As I'm adjusting to living in Shepherd's Bush, I am beginning to consider the pros and cons of living in the BBC's back yard. Let's start with the negatives:

I applied for a job at the BBC earlier this year. It was a long, tough process, consisting of 5 rounds in all to get through. I made it through 3 before finally getting the rejection. As the rounds went by I got more and more into it, so when I was ultimately turned down it was, although I guess fairly inevitable, still disappointing. I then applied for a week's unpaid work experience and didn't get that either. I just don't think they like me! Especially post- all the AbFab random draw blah blah malarky. The problem now is, every time I want to go to the tube or Westfield or just about anywhere really I have to go onto Wood Lane. Not a problem in itself, except for the fact that every other person I pass is a BBC employee. How can I tell? Well, they all wear their BBC lanyards around their neck as if they are surgically attached. Can't say I blame them; I would too. Doesn't help the jealous resentment feeling though. Walking past Television Centre may in time come naturally and without reaction from me. For now though, it comes with mixed feelings of excitement and deep-seated loathing....

OK so the positives. I do get to stroll past with a genuine good excuse daily. I act a little like a meerkat each time, darting my eyes about for any sign of anything/one exciting. More than that though, today I discovered what I suppose is called the Media Village. It's so cool! 5 minutes walk from my house and just around the corner from the main BBC building. There's this little green space in front with picnic benches and beyond that a little pedestrianised street with cafes, restaurants, shops and even a little spa/massage parlour! Oh, and an outdoor ping pong table, of all things. Of course it's crawling with BBC staff but also completely open to the public. There's a small Tesco there too, which I think is my nearest food shop, although it's clearly catering for those grabbing lunch as it's almost entirely sandwiches, snacks and drinks and has very little 'real' food. Got a few bits in though which will keep me going, not that it seems I'll ever have time to actually cook anything.

Now I'm in London there suddenly seem to be lots of people to see and things to do. Got a bit stressed last night feeling I was being tugged in about 5 directions at once, but it's sorted now. On Sunday I'll pop back to Kent to pick up more of my belongings (getting desperately short now!) and come back Monday for good!

Have been set all important cupcake challenge by Jo. This is a mission I am happy to rise to. Had to go to Westfield this morning so had a look round the cafes whilst I was there. It's pretty much out, Jo. Did however enjoy a very nice muffin and coffee at a chocolaterie, who also provided me with a free chocolate. GUH! Delicious. Worth remembering for future reference. I think the best cupcake places will be independent cafes more central though, so will continue my search every time I'm in town!! ;)

Should this blog have been called 'The Cupcake Diaries'? Perhaps a more logical name since I have not yet sudokued in Soho at all. I don't even like Sudoku. I can't even do it. Just thought the name sounded catchy and it kind of rhymed and sounded funny. Perhaps I should attempt a sudoku in Soho soon. Just to justify my name of choice. Hm. Food for thought.

Three more shows til a day off! Not that I mind at all. Can still happily report I'm loving work and looking forward to it! Had a very amusing episode last night running about the back of the Grand Circle trying to locate all of the toilets without disturbing the audience. A lot of loitering behind curtains and dashing up and down corridors was done. I realised I reminded myself of a maid from 'Upstairs Downstairs' or something. All that running up and down back corridors wearing an apron and calling customers 'sir' and 'madam'. Definitely getting the hang of it now though!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Crazy days

It's Thursday morning and for the first time since I last posted on Tuesday morning, I have time to breathe!

My routine could not be more different now to what it was a week ago. So here's a rundown of all the craziness of the last few days.

1) Eating habits. Have they ever been so bizarre? On Tuesday I went for a walk down Holloway Road. I ended up, somewhat dully, in Morrisons supermarket, and decided I needed to buy a lunch big enough that would sustain through the evening as well (as I was due to start work at 4 and not finish til 10.30). Didn't want dinnery type stuff though so decided to consume a vast amount of soup and bread. Had a panicky middle-class moment when I couuldn't find the fresh soup, but eventually did and duly took it home to eat. There was such a vat of it I needed a pyrex bowl rather than an ordianry one, but sure enough it did the trick and lasted me. I was a little peckish by the time I got in, but had to go straight to bed (as my friend had). I had an appointment to see a room on Tuesday morning (I didn't get the first one, boo) at 10am in West London. I woke up in time but by the time I faffed about I realised I only had an hour to get there, so didn't have time for breakfast and had to dash. I decided to take the room (more later) but then had to go on a mission to find a cash machine so I could give her the deposit. By the time I'd finished and hobbled to Westfield shopping centre to collapse in a Pain Quotidien it was about 11am and I realised I hadn't eaten anything in nearly 24 hours. This is not like me. So I indulged in a delicious plate of scrambled eggs on toast, washed down with lots of tea and followed up with a pain au chocolat. Later, between shifts I managed a foot long Sub and on the way home later a cookie. Calorie count very much back up.

2) Hobnobbing. Yes, this is something of a different kind of existence, to be sure! So far, I have worked 3 shows and we have had 3 celebrities in. First night, Lenny Henry (although I didn't see him myself, unfortunately); yesterday Lorraine Chase and Louie Spence. The latter was prancing around the foyer during the interval on the phone and as he left I said 'goodbye'. He grunted. Why do celebrities get so grouchy? For goodness' sake; you're rich, famous, people adore you, you get things free and you're allowed to use the disabled toilet in theatres so you don't have to pee with the riff-raff! Cheer up! Anyway, 3 in 3 ain't bad, so I'm hoping to catch a few more as time goes by! My claim to fame quota will go sky high!

3) Work. OK, so if you're not interested in the ins and outs of my routine, stop reading now. If you are, here we go...
First night was Tuesday. Baptism of fire. Inferno. Just about fully booked, with members of the press, VIPs, big 'prodooocers' and half of the rest of London. So far the boss has kept us on the same roles each show to give us chance to get used to them, so this is what I've been doing so far:

First off, we arrive and head up to the staff area. As of yesterday I learnt the exciting way to do this, which involves going through the stage door, past the dressing rooms, through a door into the wings, around the back of the stage behind the set, through a door, through a box, round the dress circle and up. Have to say being on the stage is flipping exciting. I had one of those moments 'I am on a West End Stage! ME! Aaaaaaaarghkanpacapcoasiasncopjsainasop!!!!' I have never really wanted to be a performer but I think there's a little bit in everyone that dreams of it. Mine was definitely let loose when I looked through the gauze stuff representing a window out onto the seats.

The staff area is at the top of the theatre behind the Grand Circle. It consists of a kitchen, bathroom, offices and dressing area. Here we get changed into the uniform: black trousers, white shirt with a gold emblem and a maroon apron tied around the waist. Then we meet in one of the bar areas for a briefing.

My first job so far has been to stand guard in the foyer before the bar opens. I'm not quite sure why, but four of us line up along the bottom of the steps even though it's obvious that anything beyond is still closed as ropes are up. I think we look initmidating, but we're supposed to be there to be friendly and answer anyone's questions. When we get the signal we remove the ropes and stand in our positions by the different doors from the foyer ready to take ticket stubs, inform people where they should go for their seats, and tell the 500 people who ask where the nearest toilets are.

Once the foyer is cleared, we line up at the front doors ready to deal with latecomers. They can't enter once the performance has started but can watch what's happening on a TV screen in the bar, and then we take them up in time for the first scene change, at which point they can get to their seats.

Then I have the ultra glamorous job of toilet checking. Probably best to get this sooner rather than later.

I take the ticket stubs I ripped earlier to the front desk where they need to be sorted into order. On Friday when we had about 850 people in, this took a long time. Yesterday matinee, we had 250 people in. It took about 3 minutes.

A quick break if I'm lucky, then ready for interval duty. I'm on front doors, making sure people have their tickets to go in and out with and give them plastic cups as they're not allowed glass outside. I think one of the craziest things I've ever done may have been on the first night, when there were loads of people outside smoking. We got the 5 minute call for the 2nd half so I had to go outside and YELL the warning at people. Me, in the middle of London, shouting down Shaftsbury Avenue at the top of my voice! Not something I ever pictured myself doing!

In the second half it's counting more ticket stubs and then I get a radio for foyer duty. Again on the first night this was really busy and before I knew it, it was the end of the show. It was a pretty boring duty yesterday though, as no one was about, ticket counting was done really quickly and so it just involved waiting around til the end of the show. This is when the feet really start to kill from standing up for so long! Towards the end of the play, tthe stage manager makes an annoucement into the foyer that the curtain will fall in 5 minutes, which I have to radio to everyone else positioned around the theatre so they know to come down for outgoing duties. Mine involve standing on the front door waving programmes at people which they don't want and wishing them good night.

After all that, it's a debrief, then back upstairs to get changed and home!

I haven't managed to see any of the play so far, but can direct people to Leicester Square and the Ladies' toilets. When we swap round duties I'll get to sit in on some of it. I am exhausted, my feet feel like they want to drop off, run away and hibernate but I am having so much fun!! The people I work with are just lovely and we all get on really well. I can honestly say again that I'm looking forward to going to work again! Just not putting on my work shoes : \

4) The house hunt. OK, so as mentioned I found somewhere to live! Hurrah! My friend has the patience of a saint for letting me stay. The last 2 nights I've got in after she's gone to bed so I've had to climb over her when I've got in. It's strange but even though I've been living with her all week I actually haven't seen her since Monday night. She leaves early when I'm still half-asleep and I get in late when she's half-asleep. We've managed to grunt at each other but that's about the extent of our conversation! I miss her! Hopefully we'll get to catch up properly at the weekend. So, feeling bad about waking her up every night and her having to tiptoe round me every morning, I decided I needed to find somewhere fast. When I picked up my phone after my shift on Tuesday night I had a message from the guy in the first house I'd seen saying it was taken. Disappointing as it was lovely, but in the meatime I'd arranged to see this other place yesterday morning. It's in Shepherd's Bush, behind the BBC and QPR football stadium. Oddly enough, it's also very near where I went to see Ella and The Bad Shepherds play last year with Ellen, Jella and Jo. It's on a quiet little terraced street and the room is small but functional. The house is owned by a lovely lady who showed me round- one of her daughters has the downstairs, which is accessed through a separate door, and she lets the upstairs which has a separate kitchen and bathroom. Apparently there are 2 other tenants but I didn't meet them. It's not exactly a top-notch place - the kitchen leaves a LOT to be desired - but it's available now, it's very reasonably priced and it's in a good location which I know and won't take too long to reach central London. It's walking distance to Westfield (probably a dangerous thing) with local shops, and I also need to walk past the BBC every day, so plenty of opportunities for spying/mentally shouting abuse. Anyway, I can move in today so intend to start shifting stuff over there later on! So I won't need to climb over anybody tonight to get in!

It feels like I've been here for ages now, even though it's been less than a week. I have been catapulted into a completely different way of life; completely swept up in it. Every time I pause to think, I realise just how crazy it is, but how I'm absolutely loving it!

More soon pets xxx

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

London Calling!

I have decided that if ever a time in my life was worthy of blogging it will be this week, so here we are! Welcome to my very first blog! We'll see how it goes.

Right now I am sitting in a small bedroom in north London belonging to my friend who is being a superstar and accommodating me until I can find a place of my own to live. The reason for this is a little strange and I'm still not quite used to the idea that I'm here at all! It is the result of a big brave decision, several months of unemployment and a couple of impulsive decisions. All of the above, however, have been driven by the realisation over the last couple of years that I really wanted - needed - to live in London.

I used to hate it. I grew up just 60 miles from here and so was dragged up regularly for school trips, family outings etc. Whilst I liked the museums and galleries and theatres, I hated the noise, the busyness and the frantic speed at which everyone and everything moves. I was an unashamed country bumpkin and never, ever thought I'd want to live here.

Then, I grew up, I started visiting friends here and I started to realise what an incredible place it was. So vibrant, full of life, full of different and interesting people, places and opportunities. I decided I had to take the chance to live here this year. My partner was going abroad for a work placement and I was sick of my job in Wiltshire. It was time to take the plunge, chuck in my job and find work in the capital.

It's been far from an easy road getting here. I, perhaps arrogantly, thought that with my degree, post-graduate and teaching experience, I should have no problem in finding employment. Huh. It seems that the media haven't been exaggerating the unemployment siutation. I spent months applying for positions, and then either never hearing back or getting flat rejections: 'Other candidates had more relevant experience than you'. By the end of August/beginning of this month, I was in despair. I'd moved out of my beautiful flat in Bath back in with the parents to save money. By then I was sure that I'd be on my way again and in the Big Smoke. It was starting to seem as if I'd be stuck in Kent forever.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, having decided to broaden my search slightly, I came across an advert for open interviews at a West End theatre. I was due to be in London that day anyway, so thought I may as well go along. I've always loved theatres: the atmosphere, the architecture, the sights, sounds and smells. Being a Literature graduate, I've always loved going to see plays. So, despite my concern that a front of house position (which is what the post advertised was) probably wouldn't pay much money, I decided to go.

This was a week ago today. I turned up on Shaftsbury Avenue (a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus and just in front of Soho) at one o'clock and gave in my CV. In total, there were about 25 people there, and this was just one interview of several that they would be holding over the course of two afternoons. I discovered they were only looking for about 20 people in total, so I decided my chances weren't good. As the group was so large, I only got to speak for less than a minute. I came away having enjoyed the experience, having met some interesting people (including a French mime artist, no less!) and with the notion that it would be a fun job and I'd accept it if offered, but wasn't optimistic.

The very next day I received a phone call. 'We would like to offer you the job; can you start on Monday?'

Oh my good godfathers!

I immediately accepted. Sod the worries about money or anything else. This was a job! In London! In a theatre in the West End! I figured it that as it would be evening work I could use my day times to keep looking for other positions (especially as this job is only guaranteed until the end of the show's run, at the end of November).

My first panic of course was accommodation. I immediately leapt for the internet to look for spare room advertisements and in the meantime made a frantic call to my friend who lives in London already (and with whom I've stayed many times). She, luckily, was delighted to hear my news and happily offered to put me up until I could find a place of my own. Thank goodness! This meant i could move up on Sunday, a day before we were due to have our training session on Monday (yesterday).

On Sunday afternoon I arrived in London, taking the bare minimum with me and with fingers crossed for a room I was due to see that afternooon. I spent an hour with my friend Sophie and then headed off to view the room. It was great, so I registered my interest and I'm waiting to hear back today to see if I've got it. Fingers and other limbs still very much crossed!

Yesterday was my first day. I was due to be at the theatre at 1pm for the training session. I decided to make the most of what was a sunny morning by heading down to the river and having a wander before going back into the West End. As I strolled across the Golden Jubilee Bridge in the sunshine, gazing across at St Paul's and the Gherkin, with trains rattling across the line behind me, I felt so happy and lucky. Here I finally was! Unbelieable.

I perambulated down the South Bank, past the street entertainers and crowds waiting for the London Eye. I rested on a bench opposite the Houses of Parliament, just soaking in the view. A man sat next to me. 'Wonderful view, isn't it?' he said. I had to agree. He turned out to be a French/Italian painter, who had left those infinitely beautiful countries to be able to sit right there and paint. He said he loved how green England was compared with summers in the south of France. I was then amused by his attempt to teach me French and Italian, his pretence at being impressed by my limited knowledge of both and finally his invitation to accompany him to the National Portrait Gallery. I politely declined. In fairness, it was time for me to be leaving for work. Across the river, Big Ben was chiming midday.

How glorious was the walk from there?! Across Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament. Skirting along St James' Park and onto the Mall, from where I could see Buckingham Palace to my left and Admiralty Arch to my right. Cut through onto Pall Mall and up Regent Street. Voila.

I was the first to arrive at the theatre and was directed to sign in at the Stage Door(!) The afternoon was typical of a training session, in that we were given far too much information all at once about things we're unlikely to ever need to know (what happens if someone has a heart attack? What if a bomb goes off in Piccadilly Circus? What you should shout during an evacuation?). All necessary due to legalities I guess but a little alarmingly... alarmist.

Still, it was great to be there, to meet everyone and to eat the rather delicious pastries they provided for the break. Can't complain!

So, we start tonight! In a few hours I will be making my way back into Central London, walking into that Stage Door with increased confidence from yesterday, stealing a happy glance at the Soho Revue Bar right behind me and then it's on with the uniform and in with the patrons!

Everyone I told yesterday seemed geniunely impressed that I'd had the courage to quit my job, move to the big City and take the plunge into something which will hopefully be so much more fun and exciting. I'm impressed with me too, really! It is all so incredibly unlike me, who up until now has been so sensible and careful and.... dull, frankly. I'm so glad I finally saw sense. The thought that otherwise right now I'd be in a classroom ready to attempt entertaining 30 teenagers with spelling strategies is certainly enough to realise that!

So, hopefully, this is the start of my big adventure. My new year's resolution this year was to be brave and start living my life. I think I might just have achieved that. I shall keep you posted!!

Brave fairy Rachel x