Here’s what happened last week. I had been booked to appear at a festival in central Europe. I did not have fun. The shows were outside, and most of mine were drowned out by the sound of a band comprised of European white boys with dreadlocks playing dub and doing the accent. And if you’re puzzling over how that could possibly be made worse, let me put your mind at rest by letting you know that the lead singer also played the didgeridoo. At times like this, you focus on your time spent either side of the shows, in the hotel. My hotel, while looking rather splendid in a crumbling-grandeur kind of way, did not provide the refuge I desired. Inside, it leant harder towards the crumbling than the grandeur. My room had no wifi. Or TV. Or shower. Or toilet. The furniture was covered variously in stains and/or graffiti. The mattress was made up of three square sofa cushions pushed together end to end. Oh, and the only running water that filled the cracked sink was perennially warm and yellow, from either tap. In discussions with some of the other performers, it was decided that the reason the wifi didn’t reach the rooms was that it was being blocked by the ghosts that almost certainly infested the place. I did not, as I may have mentioned, have fun.
So, I was looking forward very much to this weekends mission – Flying out to Portugal to do a couple of lovely shows in a bigass theatre, and having a little time before the shows to chill in delightful, cocktail and warm breeze accented surroundings.
Sitting at my departure gate in London’s famously beautiful Heathrow Airport, my flight gets pushed back by twenty minutes. Then another twenty. Then a couple more. Then we all get boarded – hooray! And we sit there on the tarmac for a couple of hours before getting shepherded back off the plane, the staff imploring “This flight is not cancelled”, while avoiding eye contact. This would have been slightly more convincing if several of us hadn’t witnessed a dude on the wing of the plane poking around with an electric drill and shaking his head. That kinda tipped us off that things weren’t good. A few more delays, and its past 6pm before my 12 noon flight finally gets taken out round the back of the airport and shot. I manage to get myself on the next flight out, but that means that instead of a quick connection onto a second flight to my gig, I have an overnight in Lisbon and will have to arrive at work the next morning. No biggie. Airport hotel, vending machine supper and bed it is.
The next day I complete the second half of my journey. I arrive at my final destination, but the flight case with two thirds of my show in it does not. I’m assured by the baggage staff that it’s fine. Fiiine. They know where it is – it’s still in Lisbon – but there’s a flight in a few hours. They’ll put the case on the flight, and then bring it to me at the venue. I’ll have it tonight, and my show isn’t until tomorrow, so no problem. Predictably, the flight that they plan to put the case on gets cancelled. And there are no more flights today. I go to bed with the flopsweat realisation that there’s a very real chance I’m going to have to do a full theatre show with hardly any of my props. What is a juggler with nothing to juggle? Just someone who tells you they can do tricks, but can offer no tangible proof. The showbiz equivalent of “My girlfriend goes to another school. You don’t know her, but I promise you she exists”.
It’s fine though. Fiiiine. Because we’ve been told that – without doubt – a courier will bring my case to me tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning comes and I’m woken by a phone call telling me that this hasn’t happened. I start to have odd emotions about my missing equipment. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I travel the world with this flight case and its mismatched contents. I sit on it, lean on it, throw my hat onto the end of its extended handle, and rely on its cargo to pay my mortgage. A collection of items that would make no sense and have no value to anyone but me. Sometimes, after a particularly good show, as I pack up, under my breath, I thank my props. And now they’re somewhere in Lisbon airport, lonely, confused and perhaps cold. OK, pull yourself together, Ricardo, you’ve got a job to do. At least my other case arrived, with my suit it in. I might fail dismally, I may crash and burn, but at least I’ll look good doing it.
The production team and I have a meeting. We make lists of things I need, and then spend the next few hours running around stealing or borrowing anything that might remotely be useful. They find some vases and trays, I borrow some crockery from a café. And we find a much-bigger-than-usual table backstage. But its Sunday, so any shops that might sell tablecloths or fabric are closed. So they get me a bedsheet. A fucking bedsheet.
As all of this is playing out, I’m swapping text messages with my wife. I tell her what’s going on, what cobbled together mullarkey I’m going to try to get away with on stage. She texts back the simple message “Show. Biz”. Yup. Once again, I find myself living in the middle of a bloody anecdote.
And I do the shows. And, somehow, they go pretty great. Perhaps, with the wind in the right direction, if you hadn’t ever seen me before, you wouldn’t have realised anything was amiss. One of the benefits of having done this job all of my adult life, is that I’ve got an assload of material. When push comes to shove, all it takes is a little digging around in the back of my mind to find some old schtick that fits the props available. The tricks work. I get laughs. And then, later, I have a scotch and soda and breathe out.
Sitting here in seat 29A of the flight taking me home, it feels like the breath out is continuing. Earlier today, I trudged to the -1 floor of the airport I was going home from, which was not the airport I arrived at. They’d told me they’d sent my case here. I flat-out didn’t believe them. I knocked on the grubby blue door of a little office unit, and when the lady opened it, there it was, right next to her by the door, with stickers and tags all over it. It took astronomical self-control not to give it a hug. Landing in an hour or so. Lets hope my bags made it too.