Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jack & Jackie

It was rather late in my illustrious career that I finally began to grasp the full subtext of what Mr Aloysius Louder, my voice teacher at the Royal Academy, had meant when he told us that, “An actor is a Jack of All Trades and Master of None.”

There were ten of us in the class when he uttered these profound words.

We were lying on our backs staring up at the flaky, peeling ceiling. Humming gently and using our inter-costal diaphragmatic breathing technique and our lower rib cages, we were supposedly increasing our lower tonal resonance. I was musing on the fact as to why the George Bernard Shaw Trust, which financially supported the Academy at the time, could not afford a tin of paint.

Gently prodding me in the ribs with his highly polished patent leather shoe, Mr Louder disturbed my contemplation.

“Would you not agree, Mr Poole?”

“Most certainly, sir,” I replied. It seemed, at the time, the best answer to give. I was wrong.

“Why?” he asked.

My mind was still locked into the peeling paint and the large damp patch that surrounded it. I was about to say something about building and plumbers, but luckily my friend Toe-Jam Hamilton piped up, “’Cause we’ll be a bank manager one day, an earl the next and with a bit of luck an IRA bomber the following week!”

“Quite right, Mr Hamilton.” replied Mr Louder. “You will have to gather information about people in all walks of life. From Lords and Ladies to the most beggarly tramp. You’ll use that information when you play all the different characters that you are cast in. But you will never be a Lord or a Lady. Or, I hope, a tramp. Yes, a Jack of All Trades but a Master of None.”

Thirty-five years later I was again lying on my back when Mr Louder’s words of wisdom floated back into my grey matter.

On this occasion I was underneath the hand basin in a bathroom at the Rotterdam Hilton hotel. I had been in residence at the hotel for twelve weeks whilst I was playing the leading villain in a Jackie Chan picture. Whilst being an astute businessman, Mr Chan is a “Star” and has an inert kindness backed by a heart of gold. He is also a man of extraordinary talents. Not only does he design, choreograph and perform all his own stunts but, as and when the mood takes him, he takes over the job of the cameraman, the make-up artist, the wardrobe dresser and even the director. A “Man of Means” is Mr Chan. As he explained to me one day on the shoot, “Ah, Sir Cless, in American picture, producer he tell me what to do. In my picture I tell lem!”

Unfortunately he had not told his producer that I was also “a Man of Means with NO Means” and the per diem I received was minimal. It didn’t even cover the daily cost of refilling Toddie with the highly refreshing Dutch jenever gin I had grown partial to.

I was therefore forced to cater for myself in the cramped surrounds of my twenty-first-floor bedroom. Dining out on my meagre allowance was out of the question, so I shopped in the local markets for my protein and fresh veggies. I borrowed a small gas cooker from a friendly member of the crew, who also enjoyed his gin, and set up my own catering department in my room.

My days “off-set” greatly exceeded my days “on-set”, so I spent lengthy sojourns “on ’oliday”, as the 2nd assistant director, Ms Lee Wung Sue, aptly called my non-working days.

It was on my ’oliday days that I toured the city of Rotterdam on the marvellous tramway system using my “Plonkie”. A Plonkie is a strip card that could be purchased for a few guilder and it allowed you to take as many tram rides as you could manage within a specified time. I hopped from tram to tram, gaily inserting my Plonkie into the automatic machines placed neatly on the boarding platforms of all the trams. I would return to the hotel in the early evening feeling young at heart, but weary, exhausted and hungry.

With diverse cosmopolitan communities resident in the city, the outer suburbs of Rotterdam had a wide selection of grocery stores, selling produce from across the globe. One day I would return with yams, pigs’ trotters and a couple of chillies, and cook Jamaican; the next it would be pasta and veal knuckles and I’d don my Italian chef’s hat. Every day I felt like Floyd diving into a new culinary experience. My little gas cooker and small wok worked wonders.

The only problem arose at the start of my final week.

I used to fillet all my fish and meat and prepare all my vegetables in the bathroom, which also served as my laundry room. I mean, a man has to have clean socks and Y-fronts, doesn’t he? It was while I was delicately filleting some pig’s tripe that I noticed my problem. A blocked drain.

Eleven weeks’ worth of fluff from my woollen socks, bones from my eels, and gristle from my pork hocks had taken their toll on the functioning of my bathroom basin’s U-bend!

Mr Louder’s words were at the forefront of my brain as I loosened the U-bend with my Leatherman. In no time at all I had disposed of the offending items blocking the drain and reattached the bend. I stood up smiling, looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “I wonder if the multi-talented Mr Jackie Chan has ever played the part of a plumber.”

I asked him on set the very next day. He replied, “Ah, Sir Cless, no I lav not. I am Jackie Chan not Jack of all Tlades."


Portrane said...

Ah brill, thanks for the smile on my face

Westport said...

Very enjoyable read, its the small things that make you smile.

Catharina said...

This is hillarious. I just rewatched the movie Who am I, and fully concentrated in the caracters could not do anything but laugh as I read that you actually got your drains blocked. And not just that, you got them drained because you prepared your food in your bathroom! hahaha. Thats got to be the most funny combination in the world. The evil villain who prepares his food in his bathroom, then ending up as a plumber :D

Thanks for the smile on my face man. This really made a point even though i kinda ignored it for some laughing moments : ) Keep up the good work.

+ watch.

Spencer Sykes said...

your concise writing puts many images in one's head and reminds us of the difficulties of starting out as artists, kudos