Sunday, January 10, 2010

This cold reminds me of a time when i was just starting out seriously to be a playwright. It was a freezing winter the year after our first daughter was born, and we lived in a very beautifully placed cottage just by Rosslynn Chapel.
It was so lovely. And so intensely cold.
Primitive too. Our daughter was wearing terry nappies (we couldn’t afford disposable ones) and we didn’t even have an automatic washing machine to wash them in.
I was getting the occasional review for The Scotsman (which paid £13 a review. Which was taken off my social security money) and trying to finish my thesis with a typewriter on the kitchen table. Susie was getting the occasional article, or bit of layout.
We fitted the stereotype of struggling artists with uncomfortable accuracy.
And then the pipes froze.
The plumber’s name was George. He saved our lives. He was also totally reliable, very skilled, very conscientious. he was sympathetic and humourous and always a real pleasure to talk to. And he didn’t charge an unreasonable amount of money.
Round about that time I remember passing a plaque on the Royal Mile (and I still pass it most days) that was dedicated to “George Chalmers, plumber” by the grateful citizens of the Canongate.
I so understood why they were so grateful.
And looking back on things, it occurs to me that a good theatre artist is a bit like a good plumber.
Part of the skill is being able to judge how long a job will take and then knowing how much to price it. And being able to hand the work in, or deliver it, on time.
Pleasantly, without fuss, getting on with your fellow workers. And your customers too.
And of course getting out there so your face is known and you get a reputation for being good to work with and reliable.
Not to mention also being incredibly highly skilled.
The difference is that the market is shrinking, the competition huge, and there’s an amazing reluctance to pay you anything like properly for the work you do.
Which is also quite dangerous, in its way, and certainly can take its toll on your nerves and self esteem.
So it’s probably not a bad idea to take on a sideline.
And then you have to juggle the demands of both jobs: but think, also, which one makes you happier. Really makes you happier.
Because there’s no point in being an artist, or a plumber, if it doesn’t make you happy and enable you to help people.
And after a bit, obviously, the analogy breaks down. But its a good one to stay with for a while.
It cuts down pretension and makes you think about whether what you do really is useful and serves people.
I always thought my role models were people like Lorca and Calderon.
But maybe it was George the plumber all along.

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