Last week I was doing 70mph along the M1 in a bath. My hands were cold and my lips were blue-ening and I started to ruminate.
They say life imitates art. Or art imitates life. I forget which way round it is. But it's definitely a saying and if you can remember which way round it goes and you say it confidently enough you can get a couple of people to nod at you at a dinner party.
Eighteen months ago I wrote a show about baths. I love a bath and whilst wallowing in one it struck me I should make a show about one. A eureka moment. I didn't even get out - I started writing poems about baths immediately. I filmed movies in the depths of baths and I had a big bath built that I could plonk on stage. Baths. A whole hour soaked in baths.
I loved doing it - I would regularly have a bath every day anyway, and now I could get paid for it. Every night splosh into a bath on stage in front of tutting ticket-holders. What a job. But this was never a replacement for my amateur love of baths. This, from the outset was in addition. And since it has begun, it hasn't weakened my appetite for baths. It's fed it.
Already famously a bath-a-day man, I dragged the show to Edinburgh and immediately, with one recreational and one pro, I was up to two baths a day. And it didn't stop there. As the month progressed we added some extra shows. I got into a strict routine of having a bath before each show. That's three baths right there. It hit a nadir on the 21 August. Wake up; bath; play football; bath; a few dry hours then pre-show bath; show; show (bath; bath). That's five baths. I could barely look myself in the mirror. I had to unscrew it and put it level with the taps.
I'm very aware that some people reading this will baulk at the sheer quantities of water I'm treating myself to here. I did too, so I began recycling it. Drinking some, cooking with other bits, brushing my teeth, gifting it. Even so, there's a lot goes down the plughole. And though I cut back when I'm not performing the show the idea of now not filling a tub at some stage each day is laughable. I'm laughing thinking about that. I'm typing this, but I'm also laughing. I have sciatica so am in pain, and yet still I'm laughing.
The practicalities of the bath are obviously a headache. I'm just finishing off my tour right now and lugging the bath about the country complicates matters. You can't put her on a Megabus and dragging her takes too long so we have to put her in a van and do things like "drive to Felixstowe". Me and my technician Dougie up front, the bath in the back, a big, white slut of a thing, custom-made for me to slide into. Shiny, dormant, promising. But also empty and therefore forbidden. This is how we have travelled, the three of us, for the last six weeks. And then, in Leeds, I stamped on a dress in order to make the people laugh, I slipped a disk and I could no longer sit down.
Of course adrenalin got me through the show, and Peroni and paracetamols got me back to London but on the drive to Whitehaven merciless bolts of pain started shooting down my legs and after being propped up by adrenalin, Ruddles beer and Dougie through the show it became clear that I was in the grips of sciatica and there was no way of continuing the tour. I struggled to walk, I was crying too much and - chiefly - I couldn't sit down. If I can't sit down, how can I get to Hull? It's a question you never want to have to answer. I laid on the floor of a café in The Lake District, clutching a heatpack to my thigh and wincing at the riddle before me. And then it came to me.
The worst thing about travelling from Whitehaven to Hull in a bath in the back of a van is the moment the door closes. The pain of the sciatica and the cold are obviously a shame, and the rattle of the engine and the howl of the wind under the chassis are discomforting. But it's the look of pity in Dougie's eyes as he closes his master's door that really takes the biscuit. That, and the immediate realization that you'll be in the dark for four hours. But for all that, there is comfort to be taken. No matter that it feels uncomfortable, unglamourous and cold, I can at least take comfort that I am in a bath. That I am safe - if only metaphorically. One false move from Dougie and bang - a bath full of bits.
And that is how the final week of the tour has played out. The bath - my ally, my muse - now embracing me into her bosom and protecting me on the motorways as we zigzag from Hull to Derby to Milton Keynes to Newcastle... My back healing, my leg strengthening, Dougie checking on me at services, and finally delivering me to London. For my final baths. Just a few more hours in her depths. Before breaking her shackles and writing something new.
Tim Key's Masterslut is on at London's Arts Theatre from now until Saturday 24 November. For tickets click here.
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