In those carefree pre-lockdown evenings before 23rd March, one of the favourite ways to round off a day in Laytonia was an impromptu visit to the cinema.  The more spontaneous, the more enjoyable it was. 

Moya and I would head out to an early screening at one of our local Everyman cinemas.  I say ‘one of’ because we are lucky enough to have four Everyman screens to choose from in our neck of the woods. 

‘Our neck of the woods’.  Strange expression.  Where does that come from, I wonder?

Hmm, there are a number of explanations:

It could derive from the North American native language, Algonquian.  In Algonquian the word ‘naiack’ means ‘a point or corner’.  Naiack? Neck? 

Possibly…

Another ‘neck of the woods’ explanation is that ‘neck’ is a narrow pass in mountains or hills. 

Bit boring that one.

My favourite ‘neck of the woods’ derivation is that it comes the German,  ‘Meine Ecke’.

An Ecke, or to show off mein Deutsch, Eine Ecke is German for A Corner.  

Meine Ecke of the Woods = My Neck of the Woods.  I like it!! 

Apologies, I digress. 

As I was saying, in our ecke of the woods we have four Everyman screens to choose from, as well as a few other picture houses within driving distance. 

Before the start of the wretched coronovirus, at around 4 in the afternoon, I’d often email or telephone Moya from my tiny garrett at the top of the house – that’s tautology, where else would a garrett be but at the top of the house?  

Apologies, I digress, where was I?

Oh yes, I’d often telephone or email Moya around 4/4.30 to see if she fancied an early movie and a bite out.  One of the bonuses of the 6 o’clock movie – 2 nights out!  A movie and then a meal!  Or sometimes, I’d pop a chicken in the oven on a low heat and watch another movie at home after the movie.

I’m digressing again!  What on earth is the matter with me this week? 

When I say I’d ‘phone, or email, don’t be under the misconception that my hard-working wife is in some spacious, sprauncy office somewhere uptown.  Not at all. 

She works at home in her spacious, sprauncy office on the ground floor overlooking the garden and I ‘phone or email from my cramped cupboard on the top floor over-looking pigeon poohed-on roof tiles.  

We often communicate by ‘phone or email, my message always romantically rounded off with a couple of xx’s.  And if I’m feeling especially lovey-dovey, a ‘Ps I Love You!’ That’s the Piscean in me.

Mostly though, our method of communication involves me running up and down the stairs many times a day.  Many, many times a day…

I regard it as part of my keep fit regime, clocking up 1000’s of Fitbit steps before we’ve even taken the dog for a walk.  It also contributes to my svelte nine and a half stone build, the envy of my chubby friends.

In that respect, the imposition of lockdown made very little difference to our working lives, we have both always worked from home in different parts of the house. 

Not always, as far as I’m concerned, when it came to acting jobs.  That, you cannot do from home.

Not entirely true.  Ever creative, many actors, directors and production companies have come up with productions using Zoom and other technology, filming in their own homes during lockdown, the family becoming the film crew. 

The brilliant Eddie Marsan comes to mind, appearing in a film shot in his home.  If I remember correctly his wife was his director.  

David Tennant and Michael Sheen – oops, with those two stars, alphabetical billing is de rigueur – Sheen and Tennant were on television together but apart in ‘Staged’. 

And last week, one had a choice of 3 days when one could see the indefatigable Maureen Lipman in an online production of a play put on by an innovative company, Hope Mill Theatre.

These are, however, tiny, almost imperceptible ripples in the stagnant pond that the acting profession has become.

I’m digressing again but this time without apology.  I have been asked countless times, which do I prefer, acting or writing? 

There is no answer.  Being a gregarious sort of chap I can’t say I enjoyed the isolation of writing but at least I could do it from home, especially important when I had a young family. 

An actor, however, has to go where he work is. There have been many times, especially in my early career, when the family had to come second as I embarked on ‘another’ 12-week theatre tour that I could not turn down if I was to keep up the mortgage payments. 

And there were the family discussions as to whether I should accept a bill-paying acting job abroad, weighing up the pros and cons of being away from home for weeks, sometimes months, against the loss of income.  Of course the prospect of filming in exotic locations had no bearing on what was purely a financial/career but intrinsically selfish decision.

During this pandemic, most actors don’t have to have to make these agonising decisions about  whether or not to consider an offer that takes them away from home.  Neither do he or she have to opt for the 12-week tour in the provinces in order to support their dependents.

The work is simply not there. 

I just do not have a clue how jobbing actors and other colleagues are coping in a film, television and theatre industry that has become virtually non-existent.  Desperate times along with many other trades and professions

There is nothing at all appealing about getting old other than it is preferable to the alternative.  I have never been more grateful however, that I was able to carve out a dual career that regrettably necessitated, due to writing commitments, turning down roles that I would have loved to accept.   More important, and more selfishly, I am grateful that in this wretched year of 2020, that I am at the tail end of my near 60-year acting career.

I suppose that I could finish on this downbeat note.  Perish the thought!  Hope springs eternal in Laytonia. 

Back to the pre/post-Covid routine and hopefully a more optimistic ending to this week’s musings.

To recap:  before this bloody virus, there were spontaneous trips to the movies.  Friends over to dinner, often impromptu and always fun. Family get-togethers. 

Maybe the theatre. Tickets booked weeks ahead.  There has been more than one occasion when we’ve enjoyed a delicious Moya spagbol and just as we’ve been settling down for a night in front of the telly, I’ve suddenly come out with ‘Moya, we had tickets for the National tonight!’

I could prattle on about the exciting anticipation of pre-pandemic holidays abroad, especially the annual road trip across Spain, the car loaded with the grandchildren paraphernalia and the excitement of picking them up at the local airport, the whole gang RyanAired out from Luton, exhausted. 

Give me a 3/4 day drive across Spain any time!

Oh dear, listen to me, getting maudlin again, heading down Gloom Avenue.

There has been much to enjoy as our lives have changed since March.  I love mowing the lawn, that being my only contribution to the lovely garden that Moya looks out at from her light, airy office.  Deservedly so, she does all the work.

I enjoy cooking. I have an early evening routine that I look forward to, shutting up shop around 5.45 to prepare the evening meal. My current afternoon emails to Moya are now usually on the lines of ‘What do you fancy for supper tonight? xxx’

Or if I’m feeling particularly Piscean, ‘What do you fancy for supper tonight? xxx  Ps I Love You’

Unlike myself, who enjoys the welcome distractions from writing, Moya doesn’t like any interruptions.   I’m lucky if I get a terse ‘Look in the freezer!’ reply.

To prolong my distractionary tactics, I usually go for another health–giving trot down the stairs assuming she might like the personal approach – if I can get her attention.  Again, unlike me, when she concentrates, she has an admirable ability to shut out the world.

Moya (eventually):  Sorry…?  What did you say?

George (Piscean):  What do you fancy for supper, darling?

Moya (tapping the keyboard):  Leave it to you, Georgie.  Look in the freezer….’ 

A health-giving climb back up the stairs where my creative juices turn from writing to that evening’s culinary delights, and certainly more productive. 

At around 5.55, I am chopping vegetables, preparing salad, having rummaged in the freezer for a frozen something, that if it were used to defend myself against a burglar, could well be described as a dangerous weapon. 

All this, as I watch the BBC 6 o’clock News.

Last Monday, I am chopping a Sweetheart cabbage as I hear the main headline:

‘Today is the first day of the government’s new ruling that a maximum of 6 are allowed to congregate together…’ 

I wrote about this last week.  If only 6 people including children of any age can meet, when it comes to visiting our younger daughter, hubby, twins and older brother, either myself or Moya can visit. 

I’m still waiting for a reply from Boris to my suggestion that twins be counted as one!

The News and my cabbage chopping continue.

Members of the public are being encouraged to report people who break the new rule…’

I nearly chop the tip of my left forefinger off!! 

‘Members of the public are being encouraged to report people who break the new rule’‘??

The Stasi comes to London.  We are being encouraged to become a nation of snitchers.

Covid Marshals are going to be appointed. 

I have a dilemma.  A couple I know, a couple I love and respect, have not adhered to quarantine rules, arguing that they paid for a coronavirus test and since both proved negative, they don’t have to isolate themselves.  Am I failing in my civic duty not to report them?

Another person I know, somebody I don’t respect, having returned from abroad, has flouted quarantine by travelling around the country, blatantly making no secret of it.

If I go with Moya to visit our grandchildren making us a group of 7, is my ‘crime’ as bad as theirs?

I’m afraid it is.  As the hapless Matt Hancock says, everybody must do his or her civic duty.

It is, however, UNWORKABLE! 

My younger daughter pointed out that if 6 people meet for breakfast, those 6 can split and each three can meet another 3 people for lunch.  Each party of 3 can meet more groups of 3 for tea, and so on.

If all those greedy/hungry groups of 3 each meet other groups of 3 for dinner – well, do the arithmetic.  You’re pyramid-style legally socialising with masses of people. 

Worse, how can all those travellers coming from abroad who should be quarantining for 14 days, be policed?

UNWORKABLE! 

If Matt Hancock truly believes that “the majority of people are sticking to the rules” he is deluding himself.

Driving through a seemingly pandemic-free London last Saturday afternoon, people were freely gathering in huge groups outside pubs, not a care in the world

I did my own social-distanced Covid Marshalling last Sunday as I (stupidly) walked Woody round Hampstead Heath.

Groups of 6??  You were lucky if you saw a group with less than 12 people sitting on the grass.

A Heath Constabulary car did stop some geezer selfishly cycling on a non-cycling path.  He was rightly ‘saddled’ with a substantial fine.  Serves him right, flouting the law like that!

I have a theory. 

It is intentioned to be unworkable so that when inevitable second lockdown comes, and Covid19 claims more lives, it will be the fault of the selfish unthinking British public who didn’t listen to the warnings of our forward-thinking Government.

So, here we are, back down Gloom Lane turning into Cynical Alley and I promised to end on an optimistic note.  I’m not going to let you down.

Sunday’s newspapers unanimously shouted the same headlines:

“£10,000 FINE FOR PEOPLE WHO FAIL TO SELF-ISOLATE”

I wonder if this fine can be imposed retrospectively?

Better still, as an act of goodwill, conscience, contrition – call it what you like – perhaps a Mr. D. Cummings of London and Durham can find it in himself to pay up the 10k voluntarily?

There you are.  I told you that I would end on an optimistic note…