Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A brush with fame in Deptford.

Granted, many famous names have been connected with Deptford – history books are full of them. But how many people knew that twice-Oscar winning Daniel Day-Lewis, once worked in Deptford?

Way back, in the summer of 1975, before Daniel went off to study drama at Bristol Old Vic, we both started working at a smallish warehouse, whose lorry access was on Creek Road, facing where Glaisher Street now stands.  We started within a week of each other and I got a big shock when I learned that we'd be unloading lorries together. The shock was not because I was working with a famous actor, because he wasn't a famous actor back then. No, the reason I was stunned was because the week before I'd had an embarrassing encounter with his family history.

You have to bear in mind that work was still very easy to get back then – and pay was sufficiently meagre to ensure that there were always vacancies available at very short notice. The previous week, I'd been working for the National Insurance Office, with the glamorous task of weeding out Death Grant files. This wasn't in the building on the south end of Norman Road that's now occupied by New Deal scoundrels, A4E, it was, oddly enough, over the North Pole pub opposite. It was used as a temporary overspill.

After thousands of files with nothing of interest, I eventually came across one with a note saying ''do not destroy.'' I checked with my supervisor, and she explained to me that it was the file of Cecil Day-Lewis, the Poet Laureate, who after his death had been refused a death grant because his contributions, or lack thereof, did not entitle him to one. His late wife, Jill Balcon, had got the matter raised in parliament: how could the State deny funds for the burial of the Poet Laureate?

Anyhow, questions were raised that will still show somewhere in an old copy of Hansard, the government relented and a grant was made. Hence the ''do not destroy'' note.

But here's the embarrassing bit. By the time she'd given me the family NI contributions history, the file had disappeared. I really have no recollection of what happened to it – for me, the most likely explanation was that I'd passed the file to her as she was telling her story. Anyhow, I spent ages looking in every bin and file to hand but to no avail. And when I'd suggested that I might have passed it to her, her huffy response was ''No, impossible!'' There I was, her denying the possibility that it could have been her fault, and thereby denying me the chance to check, and I was left with the blame of having lost it.

So, all in all, I figured that my short spell working in Death Grants was not turning out too well for me. I handed in my notice, took a couple of days off to find a new job, and started in the warehouse the next week.

The very first question that I had to ask myself was whether I should tell Daniel about what had just happened? And I decided not to say a word, while being very perplexed by this odd coincidence.

We set to work in what was a very hot summer. He would have been 18, I was 21 and, faced with an arduous and very dusty job, we chose a rather unusual way or working: we treated it as exercise and tried to do each lorry load as quickly as we were physically capable. And we were fit young men back then. If the place had been unionised, we would have been laid off within days, but it wasn't and the bosses seemed more than happy with us. When we'd finished unloading a lorry and restacking the cartons in the warehouse, we'd lounge around resting in the sunshine.

I don't suppose we were the typical warehousemen – Daniel certainly wasn't. A fair bit posher than me – I still had the remnants of my childhood Yorkshire accent – he didn't really fit the role. But – and I wonder how this relates, if at all, to his method acting – he did throw himself heartily into the challenge. I can say, though, that with the benefit of hindsight, that he had a quality of  other-worldliness about him.

Summer drew to a close. Daniel left first, I think for a break or a holiday before going to drama college, I left shortly afterwards for another warehouse job in Bermondsey.

I still wonder whether I should have told him. I've since seen him mention that there had been something about his father's death, something elusive, that he'd never quite understood. To this day, there's something about his father's death that I still don't understand either.

No comments:

Post a Comment