Sometimes this job can feel like an awful lot of effort for a tiny bit of work. I was doing a 15 minute set as part of an amazing bill of comedy at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall tonight. A 425 mile round trip (I come home tomorrow) is quite a commitment for such a small amount of work, but I had decided to go on the train, as I had no props or programmes to carry and it meant I could do some writing. But there can't be many jobs where four and a half hours of travelling can be justified for 15 minutes employment.
Today it turned out to be a more arduous journey. I got to Euston in plenty of time, but as I waited for the platform number to come up I was disappointed to see that my train was delayed. Then I noticed nearly all the trains were delayed, which was a disconcerting thing to see without explanation. What could have caused all trains to be delayed? An invasion of train-eating aliens? That was the only explanation. It took a little while for the news to come through that it was to do with person or people on the tracks and a bit longer to reveal there had been a fatality. And with little information about how long everything would be held up my concerns were not with the loss of human life, but with my own disrupted journey and potentially lost earnings. And if anything I resented the dead person, which is an awful state of affairs, because I presumed that this was probably a suicide. And whilst the good part of my brain knows that if someone is despairing so much to throw themselves in front of a train then they aren't rational enough to be blamed for their action, the bad part of my brain and I imagine of the thousands of other people affected cursed the dead person.
It's a horrible way to die for everyone involved and the inconvenienced commuters are the least of any worries. You leave the planet having fucked off a lot of people, which maybe gives power to someone otherwise impotent, but it's violent and horrible and I can't imagine that this is really an impetus that is at the front of the mind of someone that desperate. And it's not the inconvenience that it causes to passengers that makes this horrific for anyone else, it's the effect it must have on the driver. Don't kill yourself, there are people to help you, but if you have to kill yourself (don't kill yourself) don't involve someone else in this way. Pointless saying it, because that's not how suicides work, but I suppose I am just chastising myself for being resentful when there are two people that this is horrible for. And, of course, it might just have been an accident.
An hour passed and no trains were running and it looked likely that I wouldn't make it to the gig or if I did I would be on a train rammed with three times the number of passengers there should have been. The promoter was considering hiring a cab to bring me and one of the other acts to Liverpool, but having difficulty making the cab firm understand that the journey was from Euston to Liverpool and not to Liverpool St. She was quoted a price of £620 and I liked the fact that that extra 20 quid was added on. It was that precise. No question of rounding down. I was still holding out hope that the trains would start running, after all the drive was likely to take five hours which might well make us too late. I had the option of going to Maryleborne and taking a different route, but again that was a four and a half hour train trip, plus the time taken to get to the station and wait for the next train. A few people on Twitter suggested taking a plane, perhaps not realising that an air-traffic issue had grounded most planes in the country or that when factoring in travel to Heathrow and getting through security that I'd still be looking at a five hour journey time.
But then suddenly trains started running and the 16.07 to Liverpool was the second one announced (though it was going to be half an hour late). I assumed it would be packed and slow and nearly waited for the 17.07, but in the end I got a seat and the journey only took about three hours so I was at the gig with about 35 minutes to spare. And my quarter of an hour of work went well. Over 1100 Liverpudlians saw me perform. Not just me, of course. It was a top quality gig. I am glad I came all this way. It's just strange to think how much time went into making it happen. And also strange to think that performing to 1100 people was in no way the most stressful part of my day.
In our green room were bound copies of every programme from concerts by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra since 1870. I took down a volume from the 1880s which had a few notes handwritten on it in pencil by a presumably long dead hand. I may have been the first person to look through this book since the 19th Century. I wondered what anonymous scrawlings of mine might be seen by some unborn person in 150 years time. The dead man or woman with their pencil was more affecting than the names of all the dead musicians. Their names survive, bound in faux leather but no one looks at them. And here we were, adding another list of names to be forgotten (though I doubt anyone is going to put me Dave Spikey and Mark Watson in a leather bound book and certainly no one will add annotations). The joy of performance is being captured in the moment, being there when it happens, perhaps holding it in your memory. We're all going to die! But tonight we were all alive. Suck on that 2164, you fuckers. You won't be feeling so smug in 2314 (unless human lifespan has been considerably increased by medical advances, but still fuck you anyway).
I then looked at the programmes from the 1967 season, the year I was born and considered that most of the musicians in that one are probably dead too. Who would have thought these programmes would make me consider my mortality!? There were adverts in the 67 programmes for a local clothes shop saying that boys don't like to wear their school clothes on holiday, as an incentive to buy other casual clothes. What a different time when there might be any suggestion that a child might wear their school uniform when they weren't at school. Better times hey? With all its Apartheid and casual homophobia.
And if, as has already happened about five times on Twitter you didn't know I was in Liverpool tonight, then don't miss the chance to see my full show on 20th February at the Unity Theatre. All my tour dates are listed here (will also be at the Macynlleth Festival in May)
Photos by Phil Cresswell of ILTO Photography