Sunday, November 06, 2005


Somewhat belated review of Ricky Gervais’ summer sitcom, brought about by my spending a few days as an extra on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster whose name by confidentiality contract I am not allowed to disclose but which is the film of the book The Da Vinci Code.

What is a nice if inconsequential series gets far more credit once you actually do extra-work yourself. Within about three hours I had adopted Ricky Gervais’ resigned slumping manner and was plotting, much as he does, dubious ways to get myself on the screen. In contrast to Gervais, however, I did not mingle with any celebrities at all, let alone ones flagellating themselves to prove their credentials as good sports. Even the director was nowhere near the film set, the job being left to a second or even third unit to get the completely unimportant shots.

We started at 5am from Paddington on the bus and got to our base camp at about 7. They’d set up huge tents held up by hydraulic poles and we straight away got in a queue for a English breakfast from the caterers, dishing it out like school dinners as rained lashed down all the tents. After we ate we got kitted out in our costume. Then they drove us to the set at the cathedral. Then we waited around. At one point one of the assistant directors came over to us and said “sorry but some of you guys have been eating the toasties. The toasties are for crew only I’m afraid. You have your station, yeah there it is,” he said pointed at a table with some hot water and tea bags on it. “Yeah that’s your station, and please we haven’t catered for background for the toasties.”

I wanted to know how, with braces holding my trousers up and my whole body sandwiched between two tightly linked plates, how I was going to be able to have a shit. He thought about it. “You’ll have to buddy up,” he told me.

After a while it was time for lunch. After we ate lunch they hurried us into the cathedral and 50 of us stood in a line getting swords tied to us. As we waited in line, costume people would come along and smarten us up, although often one would finish with you before another rearranged you differently. Once I got the sword attached I suddenly felt more balanced and I sat down to wait on a chair in the cathedral, propped up by the sword touching the ground. There we waited for three hours. I drifted in and out of dozing, resigned to being uncomfortable in the costume.

Finally they called us to be filmed. They lined us up in a small hall and gave the cardinals some scrolls to hand to us off of silver platters. We were to take them and then bow as they blessed us. I was the first person in the line, but furthest from the camera. After a few minutes they decided that the priests would start dishing out the scrolls from half-way down the line. They took a few shots of that, went in for a few close ups and I was nowhere near being in any shot at all. Despite this the make-up people continued to dab my face from time to time and costume came along and tightened me up. It occurred to me that London Underground is not the only place in the world where people are paid a lot of money to stand around doing very little.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Modern Proverb #1

A friend of mine was once selling LSD in the West End, outside a club on a summer night, high on the acid himself. A man came and bought a few trips off him and went away. A few minutes later he returned, robbed my friend of all his acid, along with some weed, ecstasy and most of his money. My friend, bereft and feeling very edgy, walked down the street into the arms of several policemen who stuck him in the back of their van, searched him thoroughly but, finding nothing, were forced to let him go. So it is said that your guardian angel can take any form, even that of a thief who robs you in the night.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Run Come Rally

How they had got there was a blur. But now they were here, a large wood-panelled lecture room. People sprawled on tables along the walls of the room, while the centre, where hundreds of chairs were laid out in rows, was left alone.

He began shooting infiltrators. “You can tell who they are,” he announced to the room, “you just look into their eyes,” and it was true. The securitars had a sly, wicked look, their eyes had this dull sparkle which was quite obvious once you knew what to look for. A lot of them had these studded sleeves as well. He circled the room, looking in everyone’s eyes and shooting all the infiltrators. There was no protest. He shot them quick and gave them no time to react.

At one point he looked at four kids sat on a table, one with red hair, dressed like a devil, the others in green boiler suits, clown masks pushed up on the top of their heads. He whispered to the priest behind him, “what do you think?” The priest looked and said under his breath, “red hair.” Mendy quickly walked up and shot them all. As he did so the priest started to protest. “No, only the…” he said, but his voice drifted off.

Mendy had a TV handset in his pocket and suddenly thought of turning on the news. It seemed the thing to do. He had wondered what they were going to make of it. The pictures were from helicopters, showing the building’s brutal, concrete exterior. Words sat at the bottom of the screen. HOSTAGE CRISIS, they read. MANY HOSTAGES SHOT. He could see battalions of black-armed agents advancing towards the tower, like spilled coffee spreading across a carpet. Won’t be long, he thought.

Now, with all the infiltrators shot, slumped haplessly against the walls, the rest of the group began to patrol, waiting for it to happen. They shuffled around the room in a big circle. As they walked they passed bullets along the line, the bullets they had filched from the infiltrators. As he took a few from the person behind him, Mendy thought to himself, “we’re going to need a lot of bullets if we’re going to get out of here.”