I have previously had one life-changing happening. I was in my late twenties and at that time lived in Commer Walkthrough lorry with a wonderful Perkins 4203 diesel engine. It was before my days of trailers and loads of props. I was parked up for the winter close to a pub in Suffolk which was let to some friends of mine and I was using an upstairs room to rehearse. (Something I remember doing more of when I was young). I was sitting in the bar enjoying a quiet evening pint when a man rushed into the pub and told me my lorry was on fire. I quickly reassured him that I had a wood burner inside it and the smoke was from that. ‘I think it’s more serious than that,’ was his terse reply.
The Commer was a raging conflagration by the time I rushed out to it. Nothing could be done to save it apart from call the fire brigade and watch the spectacle with a terrible sense that my life had just changed irrevocably. By the time the brigade arrived my home had gone, along with everything I owned apart from the clothes I stood in and the few props I had been rehearsing with.
The following day with a horrific hangover from the whisky I had been plied with I sifted through the charred remains. The ironies of fire leftovers must be legion across the history of humanity. For me, a book ‘How to Repair and Restore Practically Anything’, a porcelain ocherina charred from it’s third firing, blackened but still playable. And my birth certificate, slightly singed but readable and which I kept for years until it was eventually lost by VOSA. That same afternoon the pitiful remains were towed away to the scrap yard, leaving a burnt patch on the ground which was almost immediately covered by the first fall of Suffolk snow that year. It was time to move on. Which is what I did, to Edinburgh and another major chapter of my life.
It was exactly the same sense that my life would never be the same again which hit me hard in the abdomen as I came out of my lorry yesterday to discover my theatre trailer had been stolen. I cannot describe the process and the physical pain I went through as I desperately looked around in the various places in the vicinity it might have been moved to, all of course without any sense of logic or possibility. It was gone. My theatre, my life, all my props and costumes, everything I do, gone forever.
What one does at these moments is significant. I had no sense of what to do. I phoned Hilary who is always there for me at these desperate times and of course she said calmly that I should report the theft immediately to the police. I was half way through the call (I was later told off for dialing 999 rather than 101) but to me it was an emergency. I had the feeling that squads of Police cars, Batman and Superman should be deployed without delay and the felon might be caught fleeing down the motorway with my life hitched on the back of a battered white transit van.
So half way through the call my neighbour at the yard, a quietly-spoken sanguine joiner and maker of replacement windows said he had seen the trailer being hooked up not half an hour previously by a man with a black Suburu pickup. He also said the man had nodded to him and hadn’t looked as though he was doing anything wrong.
The penny dropped. The clang was one of such gigantic proportion the sound could probably have travelled miles had the penny been real. The effect on me was palpable. I doubled up with the pain of relief. I apologised to the police for the wasted call and immediately phoned my trailer service agent who twice before had picked up the trailer from my yard for its annual service. Yes they had picked up the trailer this morning. An apparent misunderstanding in their office had led to them collecting it. I had spoken to them the day before and told them I would be bringing it myself but the message had been misunderstood. I phoned Hilary again to admit my stupidity.
The memory of those few minutes will stay with me a long time. Yes of course I will change my habits of security (I admit to being far too trusting of my fellow humans). But more than that, I will try to detach myself from things in general (as we must all do sooner or later) and remember that when the chips are down it’s the people we turn to who matter far more than the things to which we attach ourselves.
And the show will now go on.
All the best from a road near you,