In between the train strikes I had a job in London. Friday the 24th of June the day after one walk out and the day before another. I support the RMT and Mick Lynch with all my ancient beating heart. But I digress. I dressed accordingly, a green cardigan over a tee shirt and some green striped dungarees that were easy to get on – and off – and were both cool and warm.
We have a courtesy car whilst mine is being prepared for its MOT, a new exhaust, a new bumper, and Gawd knows what else, to get it road worthy. The car they’ve loaned us a ‘pocket rocket’ as described by the garage, has an easy gear stick and only one windscreen wiper for the big screen. We all drive it, so this morning, as the alarm shouted me awake at 6.00, the dawter and I left for Sevenoaks. It was quiet. The station was nearly empty. She taught me how to approach the automatic ticket machine. Put in the code, from Trainline, put in my card, then press the button and wonder of wonders, out came a slurry of tickets. Totally confusing as it told me to change at Chelsfield on the way out and Knockholt on the way back. It transpired I did neither. The train went directly into Charing Cross.
By 7.30 platform two was busy, not heaving but busy, with NHS workers, accountants and me.
I got talking to a cardiac nurse and a medic who dealt with osteoporosis.
‘Eat calcium and exercise’ she said as she hopped in a carriage with some remaining seats.
I sat next to large young Indian woman who was in conversation with her friend, sitting opposite us, they talked all the way to London Bridge. Their Indian accents soothing as the train swayed from side to side. The geezer opposite me had his legs splayed wide enough for me to put my little legs demurely between them.
‘Oh My God.’ said the comely woman repeatedly, till her companion got off the train and she rearranged herself, I shifted to the left and she took my seat as well as hers. I noticed that her screen saver was William and Kate. My head spun with thoughts about the British Empire.
I walked from Charing Cross, past Trafalgar Square and St. Martin in The Fields. 8.15 and the bells chimed. Took me back to Holland in my early twenties when a young journo threw his keys at me in a theatre foyer. I stayed in his apartment on the Herengracht Canal, used his Old Spice soap and slept in his waterbed. Every morning I woke to the sound of Dutch Church bells. St Martin in the Fields sounded like Amsterdam with its ringing chimes.
Through Leicester Square, past China Town and down Walkers Court, newly hosed.
The seediness of Soho has almost gone, the corporate rebuilds feel just a little too sterile.
Then into Berwick Street Market where the stalls were just setting up.
And one last fruit and veg stall.
Then at the crossroads I turned right onto Broadwick street and headed for the studio I was doing a voice over in. I was going to be the voice for a beauty product.
Now I have been doing voice overs for over thirty years. Everything from dog food, car rental to Elastoplast. I was early so I wandered round Carnaby Street, which was waking up. I walked in the warm sun until quarter to nine then I climbed the stairs to the studio.
After a mug of lemon and ginger tea I went into the booth.
Down the line from Manchester were the rest of the team, my engineer in Soho, in shorts and a smile, was cool and efficient. The team in Manchester were warm and hip. And then the clients came in.
You know when you know you are heading for disaster the moment the female client opened her mouth I knew I was toast.
She was nasty and officious
Her partner, a young man from the North East, was deadly and dead pan.
I did my line, then did it again.
We were running out of time.
I repeated the line again, took their direction, and attempted to replicate their intonations.
‘Not feeling it’ said the Geordie.
I did the line over and over
‘I don’t know how to say this but you sound old and raspy.’ said sour puss.
My stomach flipped.
The Soho engineer looked at me.
I changed my timbre and did the line ad infinitum.
‘Not feeling it’ said Geordie
‘You sound old and raspy’ said Sourpuss.
The engineer in Manchester said into the mic,
‘It’s alright you’re doing ok.’ Trying to pep me up as my voice betrayed me
Now here’s the thing, I AM old and raspy, because I am old and well raspy. That’s my USP. The rasp. The clients had heard my show reel and chose me age, rasp and all. I am also experienced and raspy, friendly and raspy, indeed I can do all sorts of raspy from sarcastic to fuck you raspy.
BUT when somebody, without a hint of warmth, hisses down the line enough times that you are old and raspy any confidence that may still be lurking will disappear. No matter how many years I’ve sat in front of a mic when a nasty sour puss insults your voice in terms of age and quality you’re buggered.
I left the studio and the Soho engineer said kindly
‘You did everything they wanted. You are your voice.’
On the way to Charing Cross I thought about how your voice is you. The tone, the inflection, the timbre is the very essence of who you are. Voice work takes skill so when somebody gets personal about your age and rasp it stings, that’s why most of us hate hearing our own voice, how we sound is a reflection of who we are.
After settling myself on the train I listened to Radio 3 – a harp piece that soothed me. I was collected by the dawter and the little courtesy car took us for tea in Deer Park. She and the sun had my back.
Then we went for a walk and entered the show garden so the old git could see the cold Eucalyptus tree and the roses. We wandered down the paths and Soho paled into insignificance. After the glorious garden I went to the supermarket to buy himself a bottle of whiskey and a birthday gift for next door. Whilst wandering through the Rosé my phone went.
I’d been waiting for it.
The agent had been called, and though the Mancunians were apologetic and grateful for my input, the sour sod and her dead pan cohort decided against me. I’d lost the job. Somebody without a hint of a rasp and with youth on their side was given the gig and will now take home a substantial sum.
The old git and dawter reminded me it wasn’t my fault, so let it go, there would be other voice overs. My agent told me it wasn’t my fault, so let it go, there would be other voice overs. I was fine until I got into the courtesy car to drive home. I could not move the hand break. I had to shift the seat back and using both hands I managed to press the button until the fucking thing finally released. That was all it took for me to break. I cried, really sobbed, howled out of the car park, wailing loudly the little courtesy car containing my grief.
That insensitive woman from miles away had stuck the knife in, I don’t know whether she realised what she had done. Isn’t it enough that we oldies have to deal with getting old? Isn’t it enough that there is little work for the mature? Isn’t it enough that money is tight, that anybody over the age of 55 is deemed a pariah? It is unforgivable that dead pan, sour shites have the power to dent the hide of the likes of me. But sometimes a personal dig is all it takes for the reality of old age to sucker punch you.
I should have said something but I didn’t. Maybe I should’ve walked out mid session, maybe I should have called them unseemly names, but living this long has taught me to be careful not to rock the boat any more or go biting the hand that feeds me. That’s how I feel tonight, although if there is a next time I may well rock and bite until my teeth fall out.
I’m nearly over it but I’m bruised like a kid whose fallen off their bike and got gravel grazes on their bum. Of course I will heal quickly but today the experience hurt my heart.
Fuck America’s abortion shock but thank God for Wakefield and Tiverton, and whilst I don’t wish sour puss and her cohort any harm, I hope they get caught up in a heavy thunderstorm, are rendered helpless and have to spend the night lying on a slimy cow pat. And p’raps, if they’re lucky enough, maybe an old, raspy one will rescue them – or not.