Disgusted in Tunbridge Wells

To get to Forest Row – a Rudolph Steiner village where the organic veg grows on trees and the village hall hosts yoga, qi gong classes and theatrical performances, you have to drive down New Road then bare left over a cattle grid. The Duddleswell Tea Rooms have their chairs still stacked, waiting for summer to arrive. Newly shorn sheep mince up and down the road, dark brown cattle munch on the verges and cars kangaroo their way slowly between meandering livestock. The Ashdown Forest is as old as time and the animals own it. Affluent drivers are stopped in their tracks on the tracks of doe eyed deer and sheep trotters, clumps of yellow gorse grow everywhere and the smell of coconut fills the air This morning I drove to Forest Row listening to the news of forest fires in Greece as the rain spattered the windscreen. I was visiting a man whose uncles appear in Brendan Behans book ‘Confessions of an Irish Rebel’ I’ve just bought a copy for three quid.

Not that I’ll get down to reading it, since the Northern git’s diagnosis reading has been a struggle. I start with good intentions and after two pages my eyes slam shut. I have towers of books from my birthday, all with bookmarks keeping hope alive. I have novels, poetry books, books on the magic of trees, books brought into the house from visiting readers, I have slim books, fat books and glossy books from the National Trust. I have cookery books sent from Saratoga Springs in up state New York and self-help books from Brixton in Sarf London. You see I’m still not myself but I’m trying to find my way back.

On Monday I took the train from Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross having consoled the woman in the ticket booth who has been serving me for twenty three years. She’s sold me ‘Awaydays’ since I was an adult, and now she serves me with my senior tickets. For twenty three years we’ve discussed the Labour Party, the Tory Party, the recent strikes and now the closure of her little booth. I love my railway family. I’ve travelled back from London when myself and one of my railway mates were three sheets to the wind. I’ve laughed with the woman who started as a sour young thing, had a baby, and now is positively the best resource to find out quite what the youngsters are thinking about the cost of Living, Jenrick the cartoon removing twat and Nigel Farage.

I swear I’m ready to throw myself onto South East Networks’ tracks to save our ticket office. Those nauseating governmental bastards have made our existence hellish haven’t they? From cradle to grave they have destroyed our way of life. Last Tuesday I had to get out of bed after a bad dream. I was sea sick from being on the ‘Bibby Stockholm migrant barge’. I was clawing the white walls of a floating ship that this bunch of conservators seriously believe is doing those naughty migrants a favour. Musicians, doctors, lawyers and writers will be part of the ‘Bibby Stockholm’ floaters. It’s enough to throw yourself into the drink.

So getting to Forest Row, should take 17 minutes. Only now we have temporary traffic lights on all roads south as the bulldozers rip up woods and copses, dig craters in the road and create potholes that are worse than anything on the A4 Highway in Zimbabwe. Over one particularly dangerous crater somebody has painted on the road ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THIS. Only the squirrels and bats will read it since the local councillors are busy signing yet more applications for badly built housing estates investing in slums of the future.

But I digress. I took the 9.09 train to Charing Cross and crossed over a quiet Oxford Street to attend a casting. I know at my age I should just be given the job without having to attend a humiliating casting but hey ho! There I was with other ageing actresses filling out forms to say we didn’t have covid or any other life threatening disease so that we could give of our craft. Munching on crackers and mugging to the camera to try and get the job of an Italian granny who – if all goes well – will be filming in Milan in September. My ageing companion said she wouldn’t get the job because she didn’t look old enough and that I wouldn’t get the job because I didn’t have enough wrinkles. Oh, how we lie to ourselves. Needless to say neither of us got the job. ‘They use Street actors’ said my new old friend. ‘Street actors?’ I asked.
‘Yes’ and she dropped her voce to a stage whisper.’Extras.’ Said with such disdain that it thrust me back to the 70’s when we had to do forty weeks to get an Equity card, without one you couldn’t work. A theatre had to take a punt on you, or you had to be part of an acting dynasty or you had to sleep with the director. I was taken in by Watford Palace Theatre and thankfully the director didn’t fancy me.
‘Now they employ any old tat.’ Said my bitter friend, hoping against hope that she would be that very piece of old tat flying to Italy.
Casting calls are cattle markets, although I did enjoy this one, sitting with resentful old thespians and stage mothers who were chaperoning their precocious little ones, I felt strangely at home.

I left the noisy casting room and walked back to the station to get the 11.30 train. I stopped to zip up my Mac in the rain, a little voice in my head said fuck the zip and run.
I left the zip but dare not run – that zip cost me the train. I had to take the 12.08 as I watched the 11.30 depart.

London has changed, showbiz has changed, at my age everything has changed. I am living proof that I don’t look the age I feel and I don’t feel the age I look. Sitting in a room waiting to be filmed as a Nonna from Italy that ‘must have wrinkles’ certainly humbled me.
Tomorrow I’m having a massage and writing to the local council about the potholes in Forest Row, and the threat to our ticket offices. After all what better way to spend a day than writing letters of complaints from disgusted in Tunbridge Wells.

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