Money that sticks to Brixton

Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's been another week of the leisurely work-free life here at Go Stay Work Play Live. At this rate I'll have to change the name of the blog to Go Stay Sleep Play Live. Or perhaps Go Stay Sleep Beg Go-on-the-dole. The search for work has seen a few vaguely promising things come up, though all are quite far in the future leaving me with the option of pursuing something less interesting/appropriate right away (not that there seems to be much of that anyway) or biding my time in the hopes that one of the much better things will pan out. For now I'm picking Door Number Two, we'll see how long that can last.

In the mean time, I'm spending a lot more time enjoying my local neighborhood, Brixton. Brixton has appeared in the blog a few times before, like when I wrote a little bit about the riots last summer and when I told you about the excellent Brixton Market. I've been hanging around at the market a lot more these days because one of my Favourite Things is to sit in a nice café with a latté and a pastry and do the crossword or noodle around on the iPad or blog, which, in fact, is what I am doing as I write this.  And while I was busy up in Stratford about 6 new restaurants opened in the market, which is quite cool and means I've been having fun wandering through Brixton Village and Market Row trying different spots and enjoying the buzz. Let's just say I'm down wit Da Hood these days.

So, today I'm blogging about a very local phenomenon - the Brixton Pound.

B£ Door Sticker

As I imply in the title of this post, the Brixton Pound is "money that sticks to Brixton" and is exactly what it sounds like - a local currency that only works in Brixton.  Established in September of 2009, the Brixton pound just celebrated its third birthday.  The idea of a local currency is not unique to Brixton; in the UK the communities of Totnes, Stroud and Lewes all have their own alternate "community currency" - a system of real, physical notes that exist alongside pounds sterling and are accepted by local businesses who subscribe to the scheme (similar systems operate in different places around the world).  Obviously the intention is to encourage people to spend their money locally, thus supporting local businesses.  It's not clear to me whether the acceptance of Brixton pounds is specifically limited only to local independent businesses and market traders or whether chain stores are also eligible.  But I can say that I've never seen the friendly sticker in the window of a Starbucks or a Boots or a Marks & Spencer, so I suspect that even if there's no specific prohibition, local operators of big chain outlets and franchises just don't have the independence and flexibility to participate.

I've been vaguely aware of Brixton pounds for a while, but haven't had the time and desire to look into it until recently.  Now, though, I'm having fun scouting out places to spend B£ (that's the official abbreviation) as an adjunct to my café-dwelling activities.  Already I've had coffee, a few full English breakfasts and even a hair cut and paid for them all with Brixton pounds.

The notes themselves are quite nice looking.  They're issued in £1, £5, £10 and £20 denominations, with famous Brixtonians featured on each note, and with watermarks and holograms and everything, just like real bank notes.  (No coins - small change is given in pounds sterling.) The current series features a local community activist, Lenford Garrison on the £1, a basketball-playing immigrant from Sudan, Luol Deng on the £5, and Second World War British secret agent, Violette Szabo on the £20. All of them lived or worked in Brixton.  Undoubtedly though, the crown jewel of the current series of Brixton pounds in the £10, featuring David Bowie!

Yep, it's true.  Ziggy Stardust was born and lived in Brixton until he was six years old.  See how cool this place is?

Technically, Brixton pounds are not actually legal tender but "vouchers" and are not exchangeable back into sterling, though the entire value of all B£ in circulation is backed by an equal amount of sterling held in a local bank.  However, there is a local payday loans place where members of the public can exchange the notes back into sterling for a fee and registered traders can redeem B£ at predetermined exchange points.  Interestingly, the vouchers also expire.  The current series replaced the original 2009 offering, which I think are no longer accepted.

I picked up my crop of B£ at one of the somewhat limited number of places you can buy notes (as opposed to asking for them when being given change at a participating shop). Morley's department store is a local institution that might just deserve a blog of its own if only because it was established in 1880s and is still one of the few independent department stores in operation.  Morley's is cool, as was the woman who sold me my Brixton pounds.  She was quite pleased to be able to offer a crisp new £10 Bowie and reported that the currency is actually quite popular.

Screen Shot 2012-10-26 at 1.21.50The thing that I find coolest about B£, though, is the new pay-by-text option, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Pay-by-text is what got me into Brixton pounds to begin with, because it seemed so cool to be able to pay for my coffee on my phone.  This kind of technology has been in operation in parts of Africa since 2007 (There's a good overview of M-pesa in a CBC radio episode of Spark here: ). M-pesa, the original African system, allows you to purchase credit that's "stored" on your phone and can then be transferred to other users - businesses, local government, and individuals - via text message.  It's been hugely successful in Kenya in particular, where it's estimated that 17 million accounts are registered.  With Brixton pounds you set up an account online and charge it up by transferring money from your bank account.  When you want to pay someone you simply text the B£ phone number with the command "pay", your secret PIN, the name of the business, and the amount.  Then whoosh, off it goes.  You get a text confirming the transaction and reporting your new balance, and the business gets a text confirming the payment.  It's easy and fun.

B£ Screenshot
Here's me paying for coffee, topping up, and then getting my hair cut. I actually found my new local hair stylist in the list of people who accept pay-by-text.  She got good reviews online, and I can walk there instead of getting on the Tube to King's Road and feeding my money into a chain store, so it was all very cool.  Coolest of all was that the cut itself was really good.  Thanks Jayne!

My favorite thing about pay-by-text, besides the Star Trek Factor, is that when you top up by transferring directly from your bank account they actually credit you an extra 10% as an incentive.  So top up £20 and you get B£22!  Also, some places give you incentives to use B£, so it can become cost effective very quickly.  My local pub the White Horse lists prices in sterling and B£, and the B£ prices are always lower (B£5 as opposed to £6 sterling, for example). And a coffee place in the Market does a two-for-one deal on coffee when you pay by text.  Add this to the bonus you get when you top up and it just makes sense.

The latest news about the Brixton pound is also cool, and a UK first.  Lambeth Council (the local authority of which Brixton is a part) has just introduced a scheme whereby council employees can elect to have a portion of their salaries paid in electronic Brixton Pounds. As an incentive, they get an extra 10% on the portion that's paid in the local currency, just like when I top up my account electronically.  Apparently more than 120 people have already signed up for the plan.  And they're setting up a small number of local charities who can receive donations in electronic B£.  Brixton rocks.

Even a year into its existence, the Brixton Pound still had its skeptics.  This Guardian article from 2010 reported that just £30,000 worth of the B£200,000 printed were in circulation.  But I think that now, three years in, it has to be conceded that Brixton pounds have traction.  With the number of businesses accepting B£ increasing (200 now participate), the new series of notes in circulation, the pay-by-text scheme underway, and the Lambeth Council wages-in-B£ plan launching, it seems that Brixton pounds are a viable, if niche, means of payment here in Da Hood.

And now if you'll excuse me I need to fork over a few Lenford Garrisons and head home before I actually become welded to me seat here in the lovely Rosie's Café.  More next week from the nearest friendly coffe spot...

The view from my table at Rosie's Café, Market Row, Brixton Market.  
And yes, they take Brixton Pounds.

Off the tourist track: the Horniman Museum

Sunday, October 21, 2012

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog...

Now that I've got a lot of time on my hands I'm very much enjoying getting back out into London again.  As I discovered when travelling extensively, it turns out that when you're not working fourteen hours a day (or even eight for that matter), there's a lot more time for noodling about aimlessly in cafés, galleries and museums, which is a damned fine way to spend your time, at least until the rent comes due.  And though I am certainly biased on this score, I still think London is perhaps the best city in the world in which to do this.  To that end, I've already drunk 17 gallons of latté, been on a good walking tour, popped into the British Museum, watched a really interesting modern dance piece, and discovered the topic of today's blog: the Horniman Free Museum.

The outside of the oldest part of the museum, including the excellent clock tower and a nice mosaic.

The Horniman Museum was opened in 1901 to showcase the extensive collection of Frederick John Horniman.  Horniman was the wealthy heir to what was then the world's largest tea-trading company, and used his money to travel and amass a collection of some 30,000 items, mostly specimens of the natural world and, oddly, musical instruments.  The inscription on the front of the museum reads:
"This building and its contents, being a portion of a gift from Frederick John Horniman MP to the London County Council as representing the people of London, are dedicated to the public forever as a free museum for their recreation, education, and enjoyment."
These facts - the building, the era, and the collection - combine to make a museum that has a lot of really good qualities.  First, as implied by the inscription, it's free, which was enough to rocket it to the top of my list these days. (It's even got the name "Horniman Free Museum" chiseled in huge stone letters outside the old main entrance, which must vex generations of general managers trying to make ends meet and being forever unable to charge even a penny.)  Second, as you can see, it looks like a proper museum that will have weird stuff in it, and cobwebs, and shadowy corners and dusty cases, which is all true.  Third, it's got a wide and odd variety of things to look at - where else can you see a stuffed walrus in one room and a Les Paul guitar in another?  And finally, many of those things are displayed in a lovely old-fashioned way in dark oak displays with plate glass and hand painted gilded numbers to identify them.  It's like a museum that belongs... well... in a museum.

Actually, that may be overstating things a bit; it's not like the whole place was in a time warp.  But certainly some parts of the collection are as I've described.  For instance, the Natural History Collection layout and the contents are deliciously old-fashioned.

Dim lights, glass cases, wood floors, dead stuff.  It made me feel like Nancy Drew was about to dash in and solve the "Mystery of the Shrunken Head" (Note: much lovelier photo here, in the Horniman's own Flickr group)

It's been ages since I've seen so many stuffed dead things in quite such a setting.  There were birds and insects and mammals - case after case of them.


And skeletons with tiny little lablels.  And dissected specimens splayed out and floating in big glass jars of formaldehyde with their circulatory systems dyed blue.  It was all displayed for a purpose of course and it was documented well and I even learned a few things.  (For instance, did you know that "Owls fly almost silently because they have a fine fringe on the edge of their feathers which breaks up air currents that would cause a whooshing sound when they flap their wings."? I thought not.  Thanks Horniman!)  Still, you'd just never see a room like that in a modern museum.  Certainly you'd never encounter a display case featuring the stuffed heads of different breeds of domesticated dogs.

See what I mean?  CREEP-EEEE.

Still, you can't fault a place with such a lovely specimen of a spiny echidna:

They also had a few duck-billed platypus! (Platypuses? Platypi? Hmmmm...)  A representative variety of monotremes is crucial to any good natural history museum, I think. 

I suppose partly because it's free, or maybe because it's local, or easy, there were quite a few school groups there the afternoon I went.  This substantially decreased the dim and pleasing quieness.  Then again, maybe I was in a generous mood because I didn't find them as annoying as I might.  I think that's partly because even if some are obviously hoodlums and quite possibly about to pull out a knife or a crack pipe, or both, British kids always wear school uniforms which makes it seem charmingly like they've all just stepped out of a Harry Potter novel and causes me to want to ask if any of them are in Gryffindor.  Also, I overheard one boy calling his teacher "Sir", which made me go "Awwww".  

Nevertheless the decibel level got a bit high, so I left the Nancy Drew room and wandered across the hall to have a look at a display of the 2011 British Wildlife Photography Awards which was really good, very peaceful, and another example of the surprising variety of stuff to look at in the Horniman. (Aside: each photo was accompanied by a little blurb from the photographer and a note about the equipment used to achieve the shot.  On the list of gear for one of the winning photos, among other things, was noted a "gitzo tripod and Wemberley head" which is so clearly totally made up that the photographer obviously should have been disqualified.)

The other thing the Horniman is known for is its collection of musical instruments, which is housed in a room on a lower level.  This room was quite a bit more up-to-date than the Natural History Collection and included lots of bits of video and a couple of quite good multi-media areas where you could select images of different instruments and hear what they sound like.  This was very popular with tiny kids mostly, I suspect, because there were moving video bits and nice big buttons to press.

A small example of the displays.  

My favourite bit in the music room was the video display that showed the inner workings of a factory making brass instruments. Why was this so cool?  I'm surprised you ask, because obviously watching how flat brass sheeting gets made into a tuba is inherently cool and fascinating (No, I'm not being ironic.  Stop looking at me so pityingly.)  How could it NOT be cool to learn that one of the ways they bend the brass tubing without it collapsing is by filling the tube with water, and then freezing it, and then bending the tube?  This way, the outer diameter stretches instead of the inner diameter collapsing into an empty space.  Clever!  (Almost as clever as the gears in the Museé des Arts et Metiers.) (No really, I don't need your pity.)

The lower level of the museum also has rooms with other exhibitions, some of which are permanent, and some that change regularly.  I took a quick spin through an exhibit about body adornment, and through the small room dedicated to the permanent collection of cultural artefacts.  By this time my feet were killing me so I didn't bother with the African Worlds room or - wait for it - the Aquarium.  Yes, there is apparently a real aquarium with fifteen exhibits showcasing "aquatic environments from around the globe, ranging from the British coastline to Fijian coral reefs. A huge variety of aquatic life can be seen, displaying the massive variation in the body shapes, colours and behaviors of animals in different habitats."  I told you there was a odd variety of stuff at the Horniman. (The aquarium seems to be the only bit of the museum that is not free, though at a mere £2.50, or £6.00 for an annual pass, it's not really a stretch even for us slackers without jobs.)

Instead I found my way to the museum café, which turned out to be pretty credible, with proper coffee and hot meals cooked on site (made with local organic produce and blah blah blah) and scones and muffins and such.  The best part about the café is that you can take your latté and your blueberry muffin and go sit out in an excellent glass house which is just the thing for an October afternoon when the sun is shining but the temperature is slightly too chilly for al fresco dining.

Horniman Glasshouse
It's like baby Kew Gardens!

Fortified and rested, I had just enough time for a quick turn around the gardens.  What? I didn't mention that there are also gardens?  But of course!  There's even quite an excellent view, which I took as compensation for the fact that I cycled over from Brixton, which involved getting up quite a substantial hill that the museum and gardens seems to sit right on top of.  Perhaps my first clue should have been that the address is in Forest Hill. Nonetheless, the view was good.

That's The Shard.  I think it's done now.  Those top 20 floors still look unfinished to me, but I'm assured they're meant to be some kind of semi-outdoor terrace/viewing gallery sort of thing.  Frankly, I think it just looks like they ran out of glass.

But back to the Horniman Museum, which turned out to be a lovely discovery.  Certainly if you're visiting London and have limited time in the city I wouldn't recommend it over, say, the British Museum.  Or Westminster Abbey.  But if you live nearby and can mange the trip up Forest Hill it's definitely a nice way to spend a day.  Where else are you going to find a the stuffed head of Pekinese dog, a selection of Maori tattooing equipment, a sound bite of Benjamin Franklin's Armonium, a formal garden with gazebo, a dissected monkey, an ivory inlaid mandolin and a tank of live jellyfish all in one convenient spot?  Nowhere outside London, I'll wager.

God, I love this city.

And we're back!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ok that was a long break, punctuated on my end by what was easily the most difficult, demanding, insane, wonderful job I've ever had. My contract ended on Sept. 16, but I haven't been rushing to my computer to blog because there's a certain amount of time that needs to be spent simply staring at a blank wall trying to process what I've just done.

(Actually, I'm not doing that at all. I've just spent a week lazing about on a rather nice yacht cruising up and down the Croatian coastline, followed by a week in Venice. So all of you people who are busy getting kids off to school or doing your spouse's laundry or scraping the frost off windshields can eat your heart out. I may eventually die alone surrounded by cats who will eat my partially decomposed body, but right now things are pretty sweet.)

That's the life!

And what was I doing for the last six months instead of blogging? I was working on the opening and closing ceremonies for a few sporting events we had in London this summer.  To be slightly more specific, I was part of a small but feisty team tasked with delivering the props for those four ceremonies, which I suppose sounds terribly exciting and glamorous, which I suppose it was.

I've tried several times to get this blog post going, partly because I suppose that a few of you out there are probably interested to hear about what it was like, and partly because it feels like a thing that needs to be blogged about before I can, in good conscience, get back to the usual blather about sticky toffee pudding, or the Offside Rule, or the Cornish independence movement.  But every time I've tried to get some words down I've been bogged down because there is so much I could say that it would be easy to just disgorge it all for days on end, which wouldn't be healthy for either of us.  (Not to mention the fact that there's a chance the powers-that-be have spider-bot internet monitors that may crawl over to my little corner of the web and take exception to me telling you about these things. At which point they'll probably send their shock troops to rappel down from a black helicopter hovering over Starbucks and snatch away my iPad and send me to some kind of concentration camp where I'll have to sort out 18.6 miles of floating lane markers from the Aquatics Centre or something like that.  Which is why I am deliberately, and sometimes awkwardly, NOT using the "O" word.)

So after wrestling with it for a while I had a sudden realisation that I've actually "written" a lot already.  Since emerging from the maelstrom and re-entering society, I've had countless conversations with people about the whole thing, and the same questions tend to come up over and over again, and I tend spit out the same answers.  And I realized that what I really need to do is just put that all in a blog post and most everybody would be sort of satisfied.  So here goes:

What parts did YOU actually do?

Good question.  It feels like I did a lot.  For instance, do you recall seeing the big fluffy clouds that circled the Green & Pleasant Land at the start of the first ceremony?


I did the clouds. And when I say "I did" I don't mean I designed them and I don't mean I built them.  What I mean is this: I wrote the "Invitation to Tender" documents that outlined exactly what we wanted the clouds to be. ("The clouds shall be sealed helium filled inflatable structures measuring approximately 8 meters long x 4.5 meters wide by not more than 4 meters high and shall be covered in a material to simulate a fluffy effect and shall be supplied with bespoke storage bags and shall be built to withstand prolonged exposure to an outdoor environment and shall be finished to a level appropriate for HD broadcast and blah blah blah...").  And I sought out appropriate suppliers who might want to quote on the job. And I assessed their responses and submitted my recommendations to the Procurement people. And I spent endless hours in consultation with the designer and the successful bidder about exactly how the clouds should look. And I monitored the progress of the build and visited the supplier's workshop. And I helped the supplier get all the right accreditation so that their staff and vehicles could get into the stadium. And I arranged for the delivery of the clouds and the staff and volunteers to manage them.  And I procured the helium to fill them and arrange the delivery and storage of that. And I wrote and revised risk assessments and method statements for the use of the clouds and the helium. And I made sure they were filled and ready to go for each rehearsal. And I liaised with stage management about how the clouds should be cued. And I carved out and fought for precious real estate in the stadium so we'd have a place to fill the clouds before each rehearsal.  And, finally, I watched them enter the field of play on the night of the ceremony with the same pride a parent must feel at the Christmas pageant when their 6-year old appears as a shepherd wearing a cotton wool beard and an old bathrobe.  And then I packed them up and sent them back to the supplier to be recycled.  Basically, I production managed the clouds.

I also production managed a lot of other inflatabes, and all the fences and gates in the Green & Pleasant Land, and the balloons with numbers on them that exploded on cue during the countdown (do NOT ask me about the stupid number sixes):

Countdown balloons

... and rain cloud that rained on the little house, and those ratchet sort of things that people cranked back and forth on during the industrial revolution:


... and the two inflatable yellow submarines, and Mike Oldfield's tubular bells, and the Windrush boat:


... and the cartoon-like speech bubbles that you probably don't remember, and the giant soap bubbles that didn't make it into the broadcast, and the flags and country placards in the Athlete's Parade (you know, the signs that say "Great Britain" and "Canada" and "Papua New Guineau").

London Olympics Opening Ceremony

And that was just the first ceremony.  I also had a few things on the Closing and a bunch on Paras Opening and, well, you get the picture.  I had my hands full, and I was no busier than anyone else on the team.

Was it a let-down or were you completely wired on the night of the show?  

Yes... and no.  One the day of the first Opening Ceremony, which is the show most people focus on and the one that captured most of my attention, the day was busy enough to be distracting.  And we'd also already done three dress rehearsals, one with a full audience, so mostly it just felt like another rehearsal.  And there was soooooo much to do. Even with a staff of 20, a paid crew of 32, and about a hundred volunteers, it still took eight hours to preset the show.  And that's just the props.  Eight hours for 150 people to make sure that every bed, fence, cloud, umbrella, flag, balloon, drum, bike and every other thing, was present and accounted for, in the right place, in the right orientation, and double-checked to the satisfaction of us and of stage management who were, let's just say, exacting.

During the show I seem to recall things ticked over pretty well.  The jarring thing was how quickly it was all over.  I know it seemed to you like the Athlete's Parade lasted approximately 11 weeks but in the stadium the end kind of snuck up on me.  And because the event in question includes a tedious amount of sport that takes place in the stadium in between the Opening and Closing ceremonies, there was a LOT of work to do immediately after the ceremony.  And I do mean immediately.  There were trucks waiting in the parking lot to start loading the props out that night, and a crew that stayed overnight to do that.  I was in the gang that ended up staying until about 2 or 3am and then coming back at 10:00 the next morning to carry on in a sort of zombie-like state for another 8 hours or so.  It was disconcerting how quickly things that I'd been obsessing about for a year went from being the most important thing in the world to being, essentially, rubbish.  It was hard to grasp.

Me and a colleague taking a coma-break the morning after.  Don't recognise that blue cloth we're laying on? That's because it was a treat only for those in the stadium - an effect that happened before the start of the broadcast. With help of the audience we covered every seat in the stadium in that blue stuff, which looked quite cool if you were in the field, which I was.  And I turns out that when you pile up a few hundred enormous bits of blue cloth they make a rather impressive and comfortable pile in the parking lot.

But I digress. Getting back to the question - was there a big rush?  On the night, no.  There was too much to do and to much stress and exhaustion to have much chance to take it in.  I do remember the moment when my clouds made their first entrance though.  I hadn't really clocked it until it happened, but those clouds were the very first thing to enter the field of play that night.  And the volunteers who were wrangling them were so excited and keen and grateful to be there that I did get a bit choked up.

When it really hit me was the next morning.  Astute Go Stay Work Play Live readers will remember that one of my housemates works the night shift at a press clipping service.  This means two things: First, she is terrifyingly well read and therefore also a formidable Scrabble opponent. And second, she often brings home the daily papers.  Normally she confines herself to the ones that those of us in the house read, usually the Guardian, the Independant and the Telegraph.  But on the morning after the ceremony I came downstairs to find every one of London's dailies in a big pile on the kitchen table, and there are a LOT of those.  Even the Sun and the Star and The Daily Mail, which would normally never darken our door.  And every one of then had a huge front page photo, and every one of them was overflowing with giddy praise and excitement about the show. THAT was cool.  Partly because it was a huge relief that it had all worked, and partly because I think everyone had been a bit nervous about what the reaction would be because it was, after all, kind of unconventional. It was immensely gratifying.

APTOPIX London Olympics Opening Ceremony
This was a very popular shot on the front pages.  The burning rings.  Not my department, thank God.

That's also about the time when the emails and texts started.  Friends and family and a few friends of friends even, all sending little notes about how much they'd loved the show and how amazing it was.  It made me want to stand at the news agent in the Brixton tube station and gesture at the papers displayed there and say to everyone who passed "Hey everybody, I did that!  That was ME!"

So to answer the question (finally): No, on the actual night there wasn't a huge sense of awesomeness and achievement. But eventually it did sink in.

How did they do the chimneys?

They were huge solid brick structures on custom-made 30 metre long telescoping hydraulic rams that were built into the ground several stories down.  The chimneys were installed in late 2010, before they started building the stadium.

Ha! Just kidding! They were inflatable.  No, really.  They were big, scenically painted fabric tubes with some hard bits on them that came up on elevators and were picked up from the top at the same time as huge fans filled them from the bottom.  Good, eh?  Luckily, they were some of the few inflatables that didn't end up on my plate and were managed by a lucky guy in the Staging Department.

Inflatable.  I promise.

So are you going to Rio?

Probably not. I think this was very much a once-in-a-lifetime thing.  To be able to do the biggest show(s) on the planet in a city that I love in my own language is not something that's likely to happen again in my lifetime.  Rio might be cool, but when I think about what was involved in this experience, and I think about trying to do that in a foreign country, in another language, far far away from either Canada or the UK... it just doesn't have the same appeal.

But the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014? Now THAT is something I would be very interested in.  Spending 6 months to a year in Scotland with a chance to work on a smaller pair of shows, armed with what I've learned on these ones... that is very appealing.

You must have an amazing CV after all that!

Well I'd like to think that I'm pretty attractive to a potential employer, but so are quite a few other people who worked on ceremonies and are now busily blanketing the UK with their CVs, most of whom had a professional network in place here before the Ceremonies.  So let's just say no one is beating down my door yet.  I'm optimistic that something will come up, and am trying hard not to get so nervous that I take the first thing offered even if it's managing, truck driving and guest-starring as one of the ugly step-sisters in a pantomime tour of rural Wales for £150/week, plus tea and laundry.

Are you going/coming back to Canada now?

No offense Canada (love ya!) but I hope not.  I've actually had a few gentle inquiries from companies in Canada since I left, and I've politely declined them all.  I just can't envision a life in Canada that would be as interesting and exciting and just plain cool as what I have here in London.  London is... special.  Or maybe it's just special to me.  Either way, I honestly don't think I'm finished here. Not yet.

The morning after
Me and the Canadian Flag from the Athlete's Parade, taken during a pause while carefully packing up all the flags the morning after the ceremony.

Was it hard?

Oh my God yes.  It was, and I'm going to use strong language here, FUCKING HARD.  It was certainly the hardest thing I've ever done.  Hardest, most demanding, most frustrating, most exhausting, most exhilarating, most rewarding thing ever.  I'm no stranger to long hours - that comes with the territory in theatre.  Doing a couple of 80-hour weeks in a row while getting a show up is routine.  But doing 3 months of 80-hour weeks?

And the scale of it all was just ridiculous.  Not one but five giant clouds.  800 feet of fences. 320 beds. 1,000 drums.  And even once you manage to procure 50 or 200 or 1000 of something you probably still have to get it unpacked, and maybe painted, or assembled, or modified in some way.  And then you have to pack it all again in some way that allows you store it safely and move it around the rehearsal area, and keep track of it through rehearsals, and then pack it into a truck, and fix it when (not if) it breaks, and replace it when (not if) it goes missing and blah blah blah.  It wasn't just hard mentally, it was a lot of physical work (outdoors, in the rain) and a lot of lifting and carrying and a lot of time on your feet in steel toed boots.

So yes, it was hard.

Do you miss it?

I don't miss how hard it was: the insane deadlines, the relentless schedule, the never-ending rain, the ridiculous requests ("You want WHAT? WHEN?  Have you looked at a calendar lately? You do remember that the games are THIS YEAR, right?"), the sleep deprivation, the despair.  But I do miss being part of something so big and amazing. And I really miss the people I worked with.  It seems like such a shame that just as we were getting the hang of this ceremonies malarky it was all over.  How odd that I'm not still in the office, gathered around a table carving up the list on another four ceremonies, agreeing that yes, I will do the 50 giant inflatable typewriters and the 750 custom-made feather dusters and the 5 metre tall representation of Winston Churchill rendered in goose fat and recycled Oyster Cards.  I mean no disrespect to anyone I've worked with before, but being part of that team was a bit like I imagine it might be like to go to war with someone (with the huge bonus that no one was shooting at us, of course).  Still, it was very much "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers", and that's a tough act to follow.  I miss them.

The gang long shot cropped
The gang, taken in November back when we were still getting not just days off but whole weekends, and 8 hours of sleep a night and regular hot meals served on actual china with metal cutlery and other dizzying things like that.  And back when our hi-vis vests were still shiny and new and you had to wear 5 point PPE at the stadium (That's Personal Protective Equipment - ceremonies is all about the acronyms.  5 point PPE is steel toes, hi-vis vest, gloves, eye protection and hard hat.  Of course.) 

Naturally there's a lot more to say.  I'm afraid that the ceremonies have now officially become my Specialist Subject. (That phrase will definitely have to appear in a glossary entry some time so anyone not in the UK can appreciate it.)  Even now, months after it's all over, I find myself not-so-subtly steering conversations in a way that lets me come out with, "Actually, I just finished working on the...".  But now that I've got a lot off my chest I feel like I can get back to "normal" blogging.  I do think, though, that there are just too many tidbits to share for me to close the book on the experience entirely.  So look for some short, random collections of anecdotes about a few more of the interesting or special or downright bizarre things that happened to me in the last year interspersed with the usual blather.

Oh, and it's good to be back.