Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Man, Fish, Life

I knew that I would have to return to the man with the fish on his head.

I took Anna-mouse on an epic pilgrimage to visit Esme in her final week's stay at Denville Hall. My head knew that the journey (complete with pushchair, rucksack, assorted related toddler-paraphernalia essential to small person's well-being on long, fiddly journey with no easy changes) was a ridiculous one to make with one so small, but my heart knew that Esme needed to see her grandchild.

After lunch we made the same, slow perambulation around the grounds' perimeter as before, me finding myself frequently moved by the easy, gentle chatter between Rather Young Person holding Rather Old Person's hand.

Come on, I urge Anna-mouse, let's go and see the man with the fish on his head!

I find I have thought much about the man since I first saw him a couple of weeks ago. He has grown on me. The whole idea has grown on me. The idea that I have no idea why he has a fish on his head has grown on me. I've thrown out needing to understand and accepted the art for its own sake, and because the image, and the phrase, smack of the absurd.

I do not know the artist's name, though I have vowed to make enquiries and make it known here. There appears to be no plaque, inscription or signature. But we do know a little more about him. It turns out that the man with the fish on his head is there among the pine cones in memoriam to Michael Bryant, a truly fine character actor of the old school who died not so very long ago.

The odd thing is, I have worked with Michael Bryant. He passed on a wonderful piece of advice to me. It was the morning of our First Night, and we were having a last-minute rehearsal. Michael found myself and another young actor pacing the corridors and generally fizzing with First Night nerves.

What's wrong? he asked as he passed.

We told him we were petrified, nervous as hell, didn't want to make fools of ourselves.

He told us First Night nerves were an indulgence: it shouldn't be anything to do with ourselves.

You're here to serve the playwright, he said. It's not about you. It's about the play. That's what you're here for.

I think of this as I lift Anna-mouse up to trace the fish man's face. Lips, eyebrows, nose...she says the words clearly, slowly as she touches each feature with her small fingers. It is, of course, no surprise to Anna-mouse that there are statues of men with fish on their heads. To her, it is as quotidian as the day is long.

I remember him well, too, Esme pipes up: He kissed me in a taxi when I was sixteen.

You never told me that! I cry. Did you talk about it when you met again at my show?

Oh no I'm sure he wouldn't remember, says Esme, believing herself.

Oh I'm quite sure he would! I think, but say nothing.

Earlier today, I find myself pondering the man and his fish again. Esme is home now, we 'sprung' her on Monday, and on Tuesday we discovered that chemotherapy is her next cross to bear. Think of it as insurance, the soft-spoken consultant said.

Right now, my own insurance against the vagaries of life is buried deep somewhere in the happy knowledge of the man with a fish on his head. At this tired moment, he sums up for me both life's greatness and its absurdity.

And d'you know what? I love it. I love it: man, fish, life.

No comments: