Ennui … Wir alle sind hier, um genau das zu tun, was wir tun … aber warum?

I was at an acting gig once, a one-day workshop in Benwell, Newcastle, in a school during the holidays, all long draughty corridors empty of life. There was a handful of us actors who’d turned up, none of whom I knew, while the friend I’d expected to meet didn’t come and a casting agent I wanted to talk to came and left without word after five minutes. One comes to these things partly to learn, but also to network, only to find the others can be as inexperienced and unconnected as you are, but hey ho they’re nice people all starting out. Then one of them proves to be less interested in acting so much as desperate attention seeking … and these two ebullient young men start getting us to do exercises that really involve a lot of soul bearing in front of people you don’t know, nor to what end, while the world beyond is at work, earning money, progressing … but you’re here. Get on with it …

One of the fellow players was this old bloke, God knows where he’d come from, and at lunchtime we all sat at our table in the lunch hall / cafe, which was quite odd because it was in what had been the school pool, so the main eating area was this sunken area with pale blue tiles, connecting by shallow steps up to a surrounding mezzanine about four foot higher, and a girdered roof with skylights.

And this old bloke has bought a coffee and a slice of cake from the cake stand at the counter, and he chews away … and then he comments, ‘mm … mmmm … this cake is moist.’

*chew, chew, chew* …

‘Yes .. .mmm … yeah, moist.’ And no-one’s really talking because we’re all run out of things to say to one another, and this old man goes off on one, pouring forth about how surprised he was, pleasurably so, that the slice of cake he’d bought from the cafe was not only as moist as it was but that it was moist at all. Because he’d seen it and thought it looked nice, but maybe a bit dry, but he bought it anyway, cos he likes cake with his coffee, this kind of cake, well it was not really a cake it was a slice of Bakewell tart, and he thought he might have gone for the fruitcake instead because normally prefers fruitcake, but he went for this one, just for a change, and possibly against his better judgement, but hey ho, anyway, in the event, so it proved, it was ‘moist … mmm… moist. I didn’t think it would be. But it is moist. Mmm…wouldn’t have thought so. … mmm’

*crumbs shower the table*

‘Yes … yes … it’s moist.’

And you know I was listening to this, and this, this pall came over me, and really, listen to the music below, from about 2.30, 2.35 as he wittered and discoursed about the cake, then 3.00 I found myself staring first at the table, then out the window, then 4.00 my eyes rolled up towards the skylights, as I wondered, ‘Where is this going … where am I going …? Where has it all gone? …’

Britten – Frank Bridge, fugue and finale


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