I rented a car for the first time (a bright red Ford Fiesta) and drove early on Easter Sunday to Suffolk to pick up Zeus, an eight-month old puppy I was meant to be sharing the responsibility of with my parents that I have subsequently dumped on them since getting this job at the RSC. This was the one week in the season when I was going to have my day times free with shows mainly in the evenings. I visualised myself in my long coat with ruddy blemish free cheeks going for sunny walks along the Avon with him, bumping into friends and colleagues on the civilised cobbled streets of the town. Basically having my puppy in Stratford would complete me. I would be a fully-fledged adult who had got my shit together. I would be an actor at the RSC with a very cute puppy. I would no longer feel young or anxious or lonely. I would be winning in life.
My winning streak started with a puncture 5 minutes from my destination in Suffolk. I hit a curb, hard, on a curvy country road. Coming back to Stratford on Easter Monday took me six hours. At one point I composed a text to our stage manager warning her I might not make it to the theatre before the half. My thoughts were plagued by the quiet understudy nightmare that would ensue if I didn't make the show. I refrained from sending the text, re-routed my journey on the satnav in the name of chivalric quests of yore, and thankfully was only ten minutes late for the singing warm up.
Zeus and I's Stratford holiday started to look up after that. Although not adult or respectful. Natey had a surprise 30th birthday party that Monday night. The theme was 'Lechery' in honour of Natey's brilliant 'deadly sin' character he has created for Faustus. There were multicoloured wigs borrowed from the wigs department, there was a customised phallic Colin the Caterpillar cake, sausages on sticks, sausage rolls, honey and mustard sausages and we had all cross-dressed or applied our most garish makeup. Everyone was pleased to meet Zeus. Zeus was pleased to meet everyone and posed for selfies with various lewd and downright wrong-looking characters.
Then followed civilised sunny walks in big open fields with nobody around but Zeus, me and the Swans. I would turn my phone on airplane mode (because to leave it behind would be too terrifying) and would feel some sense of rest and peace and companionship as he scampered alongside me with his paws that are still too big for his body. He sat on my lap as I ate avocado, smoked salmon and poached egg on sourdough in the newly opened Boston Tea Party. That's right, BRUNCH HAS ARRIVED IN STRATFORD! I could almost have been in North East London. Except I was one of only 4 customers for Brunch at 10.30 on a Saturday morning. In North East London I probably wouldn't have got a seat or if I queued and finally got a seat I would have been surrounded by other pretentious middle class creatives with their barking puppies and screaming, well-dressed children.
Brunch in Stratford-upon-Avon is peaceful. Walking along the river in Stratford-upon-Avon is peaceful. Lying on my sofa in the afternoon with my sweetly smelly snoring puppy is peaceful. I was releasing oxytocin all over the place. As he is so low to the ground he gets muddy from the walk and tends to need a shower and a shampoo followed by a blow dry which lulls him to sleep. So I too would follow him into sweet afternoon unconsciousness.
The least peaceful thing about Zeus's visit was his 6.30am wake up calls. He would find his lead and bark at it and at me until I conceded and took him out. Not ideal when there’s a 'Lechery' party, or a late one at the Dirty Duck, or a dancing session to soul classics until 4am bonding with the Hamlet cast. Should have thought about those early mornings when I decided it was a good idea to own a puppy in my mid-20s.
I got to be an actor at the RSC with a very cute puppy for a week. It didn't make me feel like I have got my shit together. But I did feel a bit less young and anxious and lonely. Less young because I rented a car and drove for a VERY LONG TIME on the motorway. And dogs are good for anxiety and existential loneliness apparently. He was always there at my heels following me round the house wanting to go for a walk. So my phone would go on to airplane mode and I would take him along the river in my long coat with my very red, slightly spotty cheeks and slowly, as I walked with him, London would seem very far away and everything would become little less difficult and insurmountable. I would be simply walking in the beautiful countryside with my dog who would get muddy and bark at dogs that were bigger than him and ignore the dogs that were smaller than him because his name is Zeus and somehow he has twigged that he needs to live up to his name. We were a team. He made me laugh. He made me snooze. I got to know him again and he's very cool. Zeus and brunch have both come to Stratford and it seems to be working out. A living creature survived in my care for a week. I had taken out all the excess insurance I could on that red Ford Fiesta and didn't have to pay a penny when I returned the car. Maybe I am winning. In my own tentative, slowly growing-up, sometimes recklessly puncturing way.