I'm writing this one in a car. Not trying to sound cooler than I am, but that's just a fact. I'm sat in the back of a black Mercedes-Benz writing my column. No big deal.
My driver's up front, chewing gum and weaving through the traffic. A pro, basically. I'm relaxing all over his leather interiors, cradling my laptop. Very occasionally I tut or cuss, because he's too heavy on the brakes or he's turned right at too bold an angle and caused a typo by jolting my body forward or to the side. I then have to rectify these typos so my editor doesn't suspect I've written this in a car. But I have. That is exactly what I've done.
I should explain that I'm being driven in the back seat of a highly-polished black Merc not in my capacity as a columnist. There was an oversight on that front when I took the job and there's no chauffeur written into my contract. I therefore usually have to travel between columns by public transport, or else thumb lifts or walk places or just pretend I've been to places when I haven't. If I ever do renegotiate my contract, I will definitely demand a car, possibly a driver, and maybe even a co-driver. So why the hell am I lucky enough to be riding this Merc now?
Well, I'll tell you. The reason I am currently being driven is in my capacity as 'an actor who takes small roles in things'. I have taken a small role in something, and this character is driving me to set.
If you have never taken a small role in anything, I'll fill you in on some of the glamour that comes with it. Quite apart from being paid good money just for pretending to be a different guy from the one you actually are, there are tons of perks. Here are three examples:
1) You get your lunch cooked for you by a professional chef.
2) You sometimes get to keep your acting socks.
3) You sometimes get to meet the main actors and maybe touch their hands.
I recently took a small role in Richard Ayoade's The Double and touched Jesse Eisenberg's hands, and got given a large portion of sausage casserole for my efforts. And all this in addition to the good money (though in that one they were strict about the socks).
But better than all of this, perkwise, is that, when you take a small role in something, you are literally driven to and from set by a professional. And that is what is happening now. Up front there sits this bald guy; silent, unflappable, pulseless. He's exactly what you'd want. He wears black gloves and an earpiece and my God can he drive.
Growing up, I always used to think my dad was just about as good a driver as you could get. He has big hands and a good temperament and a thirst for going long. My dad once drove us to the Alps without stopping for a wee. I estimate he has driven me maybe 100,000 times. To scout camp, the dump, university, weddings, funerals, Alton Towers. Once he borrowed his mate's sports car and took me and my brother round the block in it with the roof open. No, Bill Key can drive all right.
But when I think about my dad and then I look at this guy's thick, still neck, there's really no contest. He could do with decelerating a touch earlier at roundabouts and he could probably lose the Heart FM, but otherwise this goon's got the lot. And it's laid on by the production, so as well as feeling warm and safe, I also feel enormously important.
We're slowing down now. We're at the location. This bald man will open my door in a sec. Then I will switch my socks and chow down some professionally-fried bacon. I will go into make-up, be transformed to look like a Roman slave, and then stalk around set looking for some actors' hands to fondle. We're bang on time. It's some system.