After killing time for three hours, wandering aimlessly around the Northern Quarter, I drove to the lighting hire company near Stockport. I had been troubled all day from a fall out with a friend and now more frequently, boss – Ben. The reason I write “more frequently” is because I’m self-employed, but most of my work comes through Ben. The falling out, not only being blown out of proportion, was also very one sided, in that it was Ben who had fallen out with my good self. The reasoning for the fallout was nothing more than a mere misunderstanding. A misunderstanding so trivial that I shall not bore you with the tiresome details. The reason for the aimless wandering around town was purely down to the fact that I cannot for the life of me sit still when turmoil sloshes around my mind. I cannot engage with others or even watch television. I even had a concerned member of the public stop me outside Afflecks Palace asking me, ‘Are you ok, love?’ Taken aback, I replied, ‘Yes fine, thank you. Why do you ask?’ She replied something along the lines of watching me muttering to myself whilst looking distressed, then highlighting that it was “Men’s Suicidal Awareness Day”. All I could think about was the crazy Irishman in the men’s Piccadilly Station toilets who always chitters away to himself in front of the mirror. Was I turning into him? Was I him already? Muttering, ‘potatoes’ to myself in a terrible Irish accent and smiling whilst writing this would suggest the latter.
Unfortunately, there was no escaping Ben Mansell. We were to work together the next day in Derby. That’s where I was taking the van from Stockport. Oh how I wished Ben was the same old Ben I used to know. The Ben we all lovingly teased by calling him “Mansey Pants”. The Ben before he pulled his finger out and became a businessman. Before buying his own lighting kit and hiring it out along with himself as a gaffer on commercials, at a disgustingly immoral day rate. I hadn’t heard from Ben all day, despite trying to phone him on several occasions. He had however called James, a mutual friend and business partner of Ben, to pass on information to me second-hand. The silent treatment. I was being given the silent treatment by a thirty-year-old man. ‘You know how he is. You know how he gets.’ Said James down the intermittent line one gets from calling off WhatsApp, whilst sitting in the Terminal 1 departure lounge, readying to board a flight to LA for some huge sports brand that shall remain nameless. Nike. ‘I know’, I replied. ‘We all know.’ Ben’s ego was becoming problematic and beginning to spiral out of control. Constant threats of telling people they wouldn’t work for him again. Going out of his way to humiliate and embarrass others on set. Not to mention the coffees and never-ending selection of breakfasts and luncheons on display on every shoot, not being to his satisfaction. People were beginning to take note too. Whispers were becoming louder. I had been meaning to find a good time to softly approach him, to talk about his behaviour. Tell him this growing tyrant-esque, petty image wasn’t a good look. But after the silent treatment, I thought better of it, preferring instead to watch him crash and burn.
I had purposefully waited until after 18:30 to drive to Derby. Once the rush hour traffic had subsided for the evening; the roads were a joy. An hour and eighteen minutes of listening to the Amélie score on repeat – Heaven. The hotel was a Jury’s. It wasn’t bad. Although the underground car park was too small in height for the van, meaning I had to drive to a near-by car park via the city’s one-way system once more. I didn’t see Ben that evening. In fact, I didn’t see anyone from the shoot. Although I did receive a text from the producer, Sara, asking if I fancied meeting the rest of the crew for a meal and a couple of drinks. The production company had taken the American clients out, wanting to give them an authentic taste of English culture. I asked where they were and she replied, “Pizza Express.” I declined, instead choosing to read a few chapters of the vintage Murdoch classic, The Sea, The Sea in my room.
After a couple of hours of reading and wishing I had gone to Stage Management School instead of university, and perhaps missing the point of the first forty pages of The Sea, The Sea, I decided to explore a little of the city centre. It was around 10pm at this point and I was in desperate need of a cup of coffee with some fresh milk instead of the complimentary UHT provided by the hotel. I also had a craving for a Dairy Milk Whole Nut bar. The cold wintery night air attacked my throat as soon as I stepped outside. I pulled up the collar of my thick black coat as much as I could. Christmas lights attached to trees planted along the pavements, danced to the tune of the blustery wind. The city was lifeless but for the glow, music and laughter of one or two pubs. An establishment advertising itself as a blues bar, hosted a live act singing TLC songs. A Wetherspoons, that had a historical plaque screwed to its exterior wall, blasted Bryan Adams’ The Summer of 69 from its PA system. Somewhere else the faint sound of Fairytale of New York could be heard. I walked past a group of drunks, sat around a bench wearing t-shirts, drinking Tennent’s Super. They looked up at me, but just as quickly turned away. One was plucking his eyelashes out one after the other. Just around the corner from there I found a Tesco. After buying a pint of milk and a large packet of chocolate buttons because the whole nut had sold out, I walked back to my warm hotel room to devour my treat.
The next morning I awoke at 6:30. The few seconds of waking up after a peaceful night’s sleep before remembering the anxiety and dread from the day before, was bliss. Determined not to let one human being out of 9 billion upset me any longer and trying to put the day before behind me, I half attempted a few Pilates stretches, feeling good in the knowledge I’d at least tried. After a hot shower, I changed into a pair of charcoal grey jeans and a black hoodie that had Ben’s company’s logo plastered all over it. It’s difficult to substantiate if this was a buttering up move or not. The breakfast area was filled with people in badly fitted suits and for some reason, many paramedics. I made a joke to one of the hotel staff about how the food can’t possibly be that bad. She didn’t laugh, and I for one don’t blame her. I sat alone. There was no sign of Ben. There also didn’t seem to be anyone wearing badly shaped baseball caps, round glasses, tan coloured denim Carhartt jackets, trousers four inches too short and/or Head tennis trainers with overexaggerated loops in the laces. Meaning there weren’t any members of the crew down for breakfast yet either. After eating a plate consisting of scrambled eggs, beans and black pudding, followed by a strong coffee to rid the saltiness out of my mouth, I went back to my room. In the lift I thought about how close my joke was to a factual statement. No wonder the staff member didn’t laugh.
I arrived on set twenty minutes early. A crisp chill sliced through the grey morning. The thought of lifting cold metal stands seemed to lower the temperature by a degree or two, so I double checked I’d brought my work gloves. We were filming at the offices of some gaming company. Their office was situated on the third floor and the lift was too small to put any significant lights or stands inside. The producer, Sara, and her team were already setting up a craft table inside. I walked over introducing myself. Everyone seemed very friendly. I then received a text from Ben. “The Hive Centre, Oakwood drive, is the address. That’s if you’re bothering turning up!” My first reaction to most things like this, is to say something along the lines of, ‘Fuck this shit.’ However, this mentality hasn’t always proven to be the correct course of action. I put my phone back in my pocket, thinking of intelligent ways I could stand up for myself. Even imagining a scenario where I approach Sara in front of the American clients, after receiving a day of abuse, explaining how I won’t put up with being spoken to in such a way, before driving away with the van full of kit. That would show him. That would show everyone. That would also be the end of Ben Mansell. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and replied, “Hahahaha. Very good. I’m already here mate, can I get you a coffee?” It wasn’t until after pressing send, I realised how much I hate myself.
Fifteen minutes after call time, Ben arrived using all his overweight six-foot frame to emphasise his entrance. He always wore the same blue baseball cap with a pink elephant stitched on the front to hide his balding head, despite suiting being bald. Every jumper or t-shirt he wore referenced a band or tv show that had reached its pinnacle long before he was born. And he insisted on wearing shorts on every job all year round, so he could tell people he never felt the cold – whether they commented or not. ‘Sorry I’m late guys. I was just on the phone getting the next job sorted. You know the score. Cash, cash, cash, cash.’ He announced, whilst rubbing his index finger and thumb together on each hand, to the crew and everyone inside the office, quietly going about their business. ‘Erm, ok.’ Replied Sara, ‘But if you could please arrive on time when we book you and give us your full attention when you’re on our jobs, that’d be great. And even though we are filming in here today, please respect that this is still a working office.’ A couple of people turned and faced Sara and Ben. Most turned away in embarrassment. Ben, for a moment, looked a little uncomfortable. Then, noticing me, called out, ‘Jasper, how do you expect me to light this set when the lights are still in the van?’ ‘I was waiting for you to arrive so you could decide what lights are needed, like we always do.’ I replied. ‘I want them all up. And I want double wind-up stands and American stands to go with them. I want the boxes of cable up here and I want the box of grip too.’ ‘You want it all? For this tiny office space? You know we’re only shooting interviews, don’t you?’ ‘Oh, I’m sorry if this is too much hard work. You can make this the last job with me if that’s your attitude.’ He announced to not only myself, but anyone within our vicinity. One of the runners, a young man of around twenty-one, laughed. Instantly I could tell he had aspirations of working in the lighting department and had been told to cosy up to the gaffer. ‘It’s all good. I’ll bring it all in now.’ I said, walking away.
Roughly an hour of climbing narrow stairs, carrying awkward lights, heavy stands and boxes ensued. I tried leaning to one side whilst walking afterwards in hope it would cease the pain on one side of my back from having to lift in such an unorthodox style. It didn’t. And it annoyed me that £43 of my day rate was now going to be spent on a clinical massage when I got back to Manchester. The office was filled with kit. ‘Isn’t all this a little excessive?’ Asked Mark, the DOP. ‘Just like to make sure I can paint this picture as beautiful as possible for you Mark. It’s tough at the top, but the cream always rises. You know the score.’ Mark, ignoring the gibberish thrown in his direction, answered, ‘I want a SkyPanel here, a couple of Asteria tubes here and maybe some neg, here.’
Three lights, one stand, an 8×8 floppy and a few lengths of cable was all that was needed. ‘The rest of this can go back in the van. Clear this space as quickly as possible, I don’t want it becoming a trip hazard.’ Ben shouted to me from across the room. ‘Mate, I would’ve fucking lamped this guy by now if he was talking to me this way.’ Said the focus puller as I began taking kit back downstairs. I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. But the fact was I was dependent on Ben for most of my income. Worse still, Ben knew it too.
With all the unloading and loading, the day was at least going by quickly. Before I knew it, it was lunch. A kitchen area had been cleared for us to eat. Everyone apart from Sara, Mark, the director and the clients sat in the cramped space. ‘Once again the vegan option is shit.’ Called out Ben. ‘Since when have you been vegan?’ Asked Tamar, the stylist. ‘Sorry for not wanting to see the world burn and crumble, Tamar. Sorry for wanting to leave the planet in a better place, when I die.’ ‘That’s not what I asked.’ She replied. ‘How’s things going with this new girlfriend of yours, Ben?’ Asked Gordon, the sound recordist. ‘Good, thanks. We enjoy going bouldering and to the theatre.’ ‘Is she vegan?’ ‘She is.’ ‘Oh, so that’s why.’ Laughed Tamar. ‘I was actually going vegan anyway Tamar. Don’t get shitty with me just because you’re a terrible parent, being a meat eater.’ Snapped Ben. ‘You’re being very passive aggressive there Ben.’ Tamar said. ‘There’s nothing passive about it.’ He replied. ‘You know.’ Said Gordon, ‘I have a friend who’s a vet and she says that she doesn’t believe veganism is the answer for saving the planet. In fact she’s dead against it. She says…’ ‘Sorry Gordon, can I just stop you there. Your friend is obviously a fucking idiot and there is no way I would ever want her operating on a pet of mine.’ Said Ben. ‘Do you behave this way because you’re very insecure?’ Asked the focus puller, who’s name escaped me, despite being told several times. ‘Because this self-absorbed power trip you’re on just looks like a very weak front to hide your insecurities. It’s no wonder people are beginning to blacklist you.’ Ben, who had already got his phone out so he no longer had to look up, mumbled, ‘Blacklisted? I haven’t been blacklisted. By who?’ ‘Quite a few people actually. I’ve been on a few shoots now and overheard crew members and producers say, “That Ben Mansell is a real gobshite. Constantly speaking to people like shit. Plus he’s lazy and always late.” Something you might want to consider. Because this business we’re in, it’s not as big as it looks.’ I really should’ve remembered this guy’s name. The room fell silent. Ben placed his phone to his ear. ‘Hello?’ He answered, to perhaps no one, then left. A few smirking glances whipped across the room, before a more friendly conversation commenced.
At around 4:30pm the shoot was nearing wrap. The great thing about filming in offices is no matter how exciting the employees find the cameras and lights, they still insist on finishing at 5 on the dot. Ben had spent the afternoon sitting at the back of the office away from everyone. Annoyingly, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him. It wasn’t too long ago we scoured Manchester’s poetry scene together and spoke of one day running our own little theatre company. I appreciate it would take some convincing to suggest otherwise, but he was once such fun to be around and dare I say, the sweetest guy. It’s a curious experience witnessing first-hand the frailty and ugliness of the human soul, and how quickly it can blacken. Why it so often chooses malevolence to guide its path deriving out of greed and power or from suffering a hard knock, fabricates a perplexing melancholic sense of loss. Ben was within touching distance, yet an ocean away. Every so often I asked if he wanted a coffee. ‘No thanks mate.’ He replied each time, refusing to look up from his phone. At least he was calling me mate again, I thought, walking with more of a spring in my step. At 5, we wrapped. I began de-rigging the lights and coiling the cables. ‘Are those the Rimowa-edition Adidas NMD R1’s?’ Asked Ben to the DOP, who finally appeared to have snapped out of his pitiful mood and was ready to swoon once more. ‘Yeah, they are. Are you a trainer man?’ ‘Just know good taste when I see it, Mark. You know the score.’ Ben then walked towards me, slapping me on the back. ‘That’s our next job sorted big boy. My shoulders are killing me from carrying both our careers on them.’ He walked off as I exaggerated a laugh filled with relief that I hadn’t severed my ties from my biggest income.
Once the van was loaded and everyone on the crew hugged each other time and time again. I walked over to Ben, who was already sitting in his van with the engine running, talking on his phone. He wound his window down. ‘Thanks for having me on the shoot today.’ I said. ‘My pleasure. Thanks for all your hard work.’ He replied. ‘My pleasure. Well, safe journey back and I guess I’ll see you on the next one.’ ‘You’ll be fucking lucky.’ He replied with a stony look in his eyes, winding up his window before driving off. I watched his van drive out of the car park, feeling slightly nauseous, trying to weigh up if he was being serious. ‘See you Jasper, nice to meet you. Safe journey home.’ Called out the focus puller. ‘Yeah, see you, erm…mate.’ I replied.