Treading the boards

The morning from hell disrupts Alisdair Chisholm but his first rule keeps him on the course to success

When it comes to work, I have just a few rules, at least only a few that are cast in stone, that I live by, and just one that I have never broken. Rules are, I suppose, mostly for when the unexpected happens.

I certainly wasn’t thinking about rules when the loudest alarm in the world woke me at 4.00am on a February Thursday.

The lights are on – all the people who prefer to sleep in the dark, namely The Lovely One and The Small People, have gone away – so I can take in the debris of the night before.

There is a Rhodia A3 dotPad, a couple of Sharpies, a mini iPad, a Samsung Galaxy ZX (in truth I never know the model of my phone, I just know I always want a new one), three different types of electronic cigarettes (don’t even ask), and a serious hardback book on mentalism. Crucially, there are also five espresso cups, littered across the table, the floor and the bed, the signs of a wild night in my world.

I remember trying to work out a stunt for a gig in Los Angeles in April, and on the pad I look over the drawings and diagrams I made, all annotated in capital letters, in tiny writing, trying to be clear and secretive at the same time.

In a corner of the pad, I have written in big, block capitals, ‘I want to go to Tokyo’ and drawn a heart around it, in the style of a particular one of my Small People. I have zero recall of writing this, and it is not anything I have been thinking about at all but I kind of already feel bound for Japan.

I am out the castle by 4.10am, in my running gear, with my new seriously high-tech shoes that practically do the running for you, off on a 5k route along the coast then looping inland and home.

Well into the homeward stretch, right outside the local hospital, I trip on next to nothing, break my fall against a fence with my face, with a handy piece of wire gashing my upper cheek. Ten minutes later, I have been whizzed through an empty A&E department, glued together and bandaged and running home – it is more shuffling along than running, really.

I am in the shower just after 5.00am, the bandage falls off, and I decide, although I look like I have been in a fight that I lost rather badly, to leave it off and tough it out.

By 6.30am, and after four espressos and two of the daily allowance of real life tobacco smoking sticks, I am good to go. The gig, a 9.30 to 11.00am sales show at a rather lovely hotel, is only an hour away.

At least it is only an hour away without the inexplicable traffic jam, definitely without the pothole that takes out my front tyre and certainly without the gruelling wait for a local cab to find me and take me the last 20 miles.

While I am waiting, I call the client and let her know I will be there on time, but only just, and then call the hotel conference manager with specific suggestions for setting up the room, putting out my notepads and pens and my ‘roller-blind’ display stands, all of which I had sent to myself at the hotel.

In the cab, once I realise I am going to make it in time, I am cool, but only just, and only because I have to be.

A mile from the hotel I call the conference manager again, and she is waiting for me outside, at 9.10am, an angel with a cup of coffee. I go for a wander with my coffee, smoking my last two cigarettes of the day, knowing that the most important thing right now is to be completely right minded, zooming in on the gig.

At the last minute, happy and ready, vanity gets the better of me and I hastily slap a bandage on my wound and don my Wayfarers to hide my now closed right eye.

Then, the sales director is introducing me, and she can’t help but say, ‘he looked a whole lot better when I booked him than he does now’, and it makes me laugh, and then I am on.

In the seconds left, as I walk centre stage, the final moments of preparation, that incredible feeling of letting go of everything and anything else but the gig, I can’t help thinking how lucky I am and how glad I am of my first, unbreakable rule.

Make your gig, good fortune.


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