Yes, of course, my main business is running Swindon Braille Services and providing “a fast, efficient and completely confidential service transcribing print documents into braille.” (Just as it says on this website. I checked!) Blogging on braille, disability and issues facing the visually impaired is all part of that business, but have I told you about my side-line as a theatrical landlady?
It all started when my sister forwarded me an email asking for people to offer accommodation to actors and backstage crew visiting our local theatres. She thought I might find it interesting and afford me a little extra income. I decided to give it a go. I signed up and waited.
My first tenant was playing Peppa Pig at the Wyvern Theatre here in Swindon. (Which was highly appropriate, of course as, according to localhistories.org, “The name Swindon is derived from the Saxon words swine dun meaning pig hill or the hill where pigs were bred.”) She only stayed one night but she said she found my spare room comfortable and would recommend me to others.
That all sounded promising.
I then waited for a couple of months for the next tenants. They belonged to a Christian theatre company and came to me through the church. It was shortly after they left that things really took off.
I don’t recall now which play my next lodger was in but he arrived on Sunday and I didn’t see him again until Wednesday.
I think at this point I need to explain how matters routinely unfold. Sunday is travel day. The actor/crew person will arrive at my house, usually in the early evening. Pausing only to note the Wi-Fi password, they leave their luggage and then dash off to the theatre. They generally return quite late that night. As they often rise late and come back late at night, I can go days without actually speaking to them.
When I encountered my tenant on the Wednesday in question I expressed my concern that he didn’t seem to eat anything. I hadn’t encountered him in the kitchen and no food had found its way into the cupboards. (I always offer my guests cupboard and fridge space.) He said that, being a single man, he was accustomed to living on take-aways and they had a microwave at the theatre in which he made Cup-a-Soups and porridge.
I don’t like to sound sexist, but I have noticed that whereas my women guests do make use of the kitchen and even cook and eat proper meals, the men often don’t use the kitchen at all, or very minimally. There have, of course, been notable exceptions to this.
It took me a while to get used to the rhythms of theatre people. Quite a number of my lodgers, both men and women, go running while they’re staying with me. One dancer in the panto even signed up at a gym before coming here to book in and leave his luggage.
I haven’t been to every play that my lodgers have been in but I have mentioned before in this blog that two cast members from The Mousetrap stayed with me and kindly arranged for me to go on a touch tour of the set. At the risk of repeating myself, I was greatly impressed with the period detail of the set and props, even down to the use of the correct brown paper and string to wrap the Christmas presents in the play. The panelling on the walls and the 1950s furniture all made the stage feel like a real living room. My sister came with me, and she and I particularly enjoyed having fake snow blown over us when the stage crew demonstrated their snow machine.
One of my favourite shows was The Buddy Holly Story. I had two lodgers that week, one playing a DJ and the other the Big Bopper. As I took the latter up to the loft, (I have a great loft conversion), he exclaimed, “Oh, the penthouse!” and so it has been known ever since. I am proud to tell people that the Big Bopper has slept in my penthouse, and not everyone can say that!
I give each lodger a set of keys and occasionally they make use of my parking space at the back of the house. One lodger, having told me he was leaving during the day, texted me to say that he had left in the middle of the night and that my keys were in the hanging basket at the bottom of my garden. Basically, rather than drop them off at the front door, he had lobbed them over the back wall!
I was brought up to be very security conscious so, despite the fact that it was raining hard, I donned my anorak and made my way across the garden. If any of my neighbours had looked out just then, they would have seen a small figure, hood pulled down over her eyes, reaching up into a hanging basket and sifting through the contents with her fingers. Fortunately I didn’t have to rummage about in the loam for too long before I located the keys.
All my lodgers are invited to sign the visitors’ book. Megan, from The Girl on the Train, which I can thoroughly recommend, drew a bat in the comments section, having noticed how many I have about the place. (At least, I assume that that’s why she did it…)
I have come to really admire actors and everyone connected with the theatre. Many play runs last all year. The cast and crew travel great distances each week, never knowing if they will find a comfortable bed at the end of it. They work hard and manage to keep the play fresh night after night, week after week and month after month. The dedication and energy levels required are immense.