fill your pockets with earth
IN THE MIDST OF THINGS, funeral bells ring out from the Polish church on his right as he cycles up the hill and round the bend.
The hill is graded as steep and he digs deep for extra effort on a warm afternoon. Watching his left foot push into the pedal, the bike front wheel rolls past a dead rat in the gutter. The rat roadkill is grey with dried streaks of red as in this moment, across the busy road, a crowd of mourners on the wide pavement gather for a big send off. Must be a popular dead person. Not just a fleet of black limos for the service but a full-size passenger coach dropping off outside the hospital next to the church, temporarily blocking access to the ante-natal unit.
He downshifts to a lower gear for the sharpest section of the long climb home. Almost non-stop hill from the centre of town and his knees don’t like it. He hears himself breathing hard as the bike wobbles laterally in a caricature of flawed endeavour. He could simply spare himself, spare drivers and pedestrians the sight of it, and just get off and push. He won’t do this though. His mind made up that kind of climb down will never happen. But then this is early summer twenty twenty three and last month Martin Amis died. If the perpetual enfant terrible of English lit can up and leave, who knows anything for certain about what comes next?
Mid morning the next day at work, he discovers he was seen cycling up the steep hill. At the coffee point a colleague, a fine specimen who owns several bikes and most weekends rides vast distances across the hills, says he was sat outside the pub, that big Wetherspoons on the corner, you know, enjoying the sun, waiting for a friend, actually, a second date, he says, when he looked up from his pint, and it was, You. He points a finger. On yer bike!
Bugger. The Fine Specimen had a peakside view of yesterday’s pathetic struggle of man versus hill.
I didn’t call out. You seemed quite involved.
You mean dying.
Well, hills can be brutal, confirms the Fine Specimen.
They nod in unison at this incontrovertible truth concerning bikes and gravity. He confides to the Fine Specimen that on the outside he may be cycling, but inside he dreams of electric bikes. The Fine Specimen half smiles. There’s a charity sprintathon coming up end of the month, he says. Did you see the email? We should do it. Back at his desk, Kaput looks into the clouds in his coffee and sees his knees giving way on the back straight.
In these fervent times, no year scrolls by without its pressures. And while worry with its circling momentum is both an engrossing subject and a useless compulsion, twenty twenty three seemed gripped by several repetitive grizzles – not least the grouchy state of his knees. These previously reliable joints not working properly, not like they used to work, adds extra grief to his everyday existence. Twenty twenty three’s been twelve months filled with hundreds and hundreds of standing squats in a overdue bid to get his upper legs performing better. ‘Any life when viewed from the inside’, observed George Orwell, ‘is simply a series of defeats.’
He is nonetheless trying to outsmart defeat. He has always believed in his legs. Many occasions over the years, stepping out the shower and fronting up before the long bathroom mirror, he has run his eyes up and down these extra long, and undeniably slender pins, that don’t appear too promising, and thanked them for being actually incredibly reliable. You keep me standing. Literally saying it interior-wise towelling down – Thanks guys! Intimately, now and then, he has even shared the news with others, these legs, you know, they’re stronger than they look.
Or so he thought. But in the lead-up to last New Year, his physio, who comes originally from Bulgaria, told him his legs are not, in fact, much stronger than they look – but weak. (So often we’re late to our own lives.) Build them up, his physio adjures as she watches over his squats. Strong thighs support the knees and so we do squats to help the pain. At the office he takes a mini inflated Swiss ball with him into the disabled toilet. He places the blue sphere between his knees and sets his watch for sixty seconds of good quality squats, observing his form in the mirror. He does this several times a day. He’s the weird dude wandering the open plan workspace with a blue ball under his arm.
To go with the squats he had hyaluronic acid injected into his kneecaps by an orthopaedic specialist wearing a lively check suit, who informed him, if you want to run, you can run, but nobody has to run. Except from tigers, he thinks, as he settles down to watch Tom Cruise be extravagantly, preternaturally active for three hours in the new Mission: Impossible.
Cruise passed sixty in twenty twenty two, says Wikipedia. But early into Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, you question the reality of age, as the world’s most famous Scientologist hits the pavement for a protracted foot race through the calles of night-time Venice.
The Cruise leg speed is eye catching as well as unnerving. He shifts in his seat, his usual movie restlessness inter-mixed with residual knee ache, but also a somatic melancholy for the lost body that’s not coming back. Sure, he wonders what kind of shape the Cruise knees are in. But he’s not going to write a novel about it. As he watches Cruise race hither, then thither, his predominant thinking is can he too still do any of this stuff? Having recently hit a landmark birthday, he’s vague about what to expect of his body – what’s passed on, physically, for ever, and what continues. Forget sprinting, can he still canter? Trot? Is light jogging an option?
At the football on Sunday he takes a turn in goal. It’s before all the rain and the compacted turf is hard as pavement. Preparing to save a penalty, the ball kicked at pace deflects spitefully off a large divot and smacks him in the face. Largely through shock as much as force, he flies back, hands in the air and collapses onto the ground in a surprised heap of limbs. Immediately his digi-watch starts vibrating. ‘SOS: Emergency’ The digi-watch is worried, the screen flashing red, asking anxiously like a mate: ‘Did you have a fall? Are you okay?’
Following the game, he rides home, up and down hills, and straight after lunch logs-in to the Watch app to modify the setting to a different age group and lifestyle where the occasional bump isn’t an emergency. But he gets his log-in wrong which starts up a saga on Captcha, with the stop signs tiles hard to identify because he can’t find his reading glasses.
Flaubert wrote that ‘no sooner do we come into this world than bits of us start to fall off’. He knows he shouldn’t believe all that he sees, but the onscreen Tom Cruise surely defies Flaubert’s Law. Not only is the international movie star phenomenon a superlative foot racer he’s also a serial expert sky jumper. There are short films on YouTube of Action Cruise hurling himself from airborne helicopters, skydiving across breath-taking landscapes before gliding back to earth. It’s impressive for sure, but is all the skydiving a crazy superstar’s refusal to grow up? Does Cruise know what it means to be an adult? Does anyone any more?
Lately, Tom Cruise only makes Action Movies. No more Drama. Entering a life phase where most folk start to wind it down, Cruise has been amping things up, claiming he’ll be making action movies when he’s eighty. This may indicate fantastic good health, or serious emotional regression. The renouncing of Dramatic movies, with their potential for role complexity, recapitulates the suspicion that not only has Cruise put the brakes on ageing, but the whole maturity hassle. It was not always the case.
Emerging from a chaotic Catholic childhood in Syracuse, New York featuring a teen flirtation with the priesthood, Cruise first came to public attention in The Outsiders. For Francis Coppola’s period coming-of age drama, Cruise shared screen space with an ensemble cast also featuring Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez. Briefly, loosely designated as part of an emergent new Brat Pack, Cruise quickly surged ahead of his contemporaries – as movies such as Legend, Risky Business and Top Gun catapulted him to the top of the movie star heap.
Thereafter, for a long period, Cruise stayed on top through being a focussed and diligent film star covering the movie waterfront. Cruise successfully combined star vehicles such as The Firm and A Few Good Men, with romcoms Jerry Maguire and Cocktail; but also putting in some serious dramatic acting work with prestige directors Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone and Paul Thomas Anderson. From Born on the Fourth of July to Rain Man to Eyes Wide Shut, Cruise regularly presented as a quality screen actor with Oscars on the horizon. But all the while also fronting action-based popcorn movies Knight and Day, Minority Report or War of the Worlds, as well as billion-dollar franchises from Jack Reacher to, biggest of all, Mission: Impossible.
The last decade or so, however, the Cruise filmography has drastically narrowed, his range streamlined to variations of Action Cruise. It would seem that Tom tired overtime of the drama of acting really hard for prizes he wasn’t ever going to win. No matter how good he got onscreen, too many of the folk casting votes – fellow actors and film-makers – found Cruise a bit weird, polling for Michael Caine instead, or Daniel Day-Lewis, or Geoffrey Rush even. So Cruise quit chasing phantoms and focussed his mode. But had something else shifted?
When a young Elizabeth Taylor asked Montgomery Clift the secret to good acting, Clift told Taylor ‘you have to feel it in your guts and your guts have to get in an uproar.’ You watch Cruise these days and do not feel an uproar in his guts. In Michael Mann’s Collateral, playing Vince, the jazz-partial hitman having the worst night in LA, there’s some fine acting going on, perhaps even some inner uproar. But that was Cruise a long way back in two thousand and four; before the rupture.
In August two thousand and six, Paramount Pictures terminated its highly lucrative 14-year relationship with Tom Cruise. Paramount’s parent company Viacom cited the economic harm to Cruise’s market value due to his controversial views and erratic behaviour in public. It would seem Paramount/Viacom found the sight of Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey’s sofa, shouting I love Katie Holmes! too strange. His Scientology stuff increasingly shady. And after Cruise launched an anti-personnel attack on poor Brooke Shields, supposedly a friend, for Shields’ psychiatric treatment of postpartum depression, Paramount/Viacom withdrew.
Cruise hit back saying he’d planned on going solo anyway. From now on he would make his own films – funded by venture capital. Thereafter the Cruise career flight path canted towards reliable action-movie franchise building. Investment capital expects big returns, requiring productions with a mass global appeal earning not millions but billions.
In the last decade and a half, Action Cruise has battled thugs, spies, hit-men, aliens, terrorists, an ancient mummy, and many other modes of arch villain. In the legal drama A Few Good Men, way back when Cruise was still the new kid on the block, his character would reach for his baseball bat to help him think. In The Colour of Money, Cruise wields a pool cue, jigging on the spot, as character shorthand for dumb pool-room prodigy. But proficiency with sticks was back in the days of Dramatic Cruise. Action Cruise jumps off things. He goes skydiving, cliff-leaping, and skyscraper scaling. Expect multiple tummy drops as Action Cruise slaloms his motorbike across rough terrain, riding his fast bike up onto moving trains at high speed, and then riding back off again. More recently, Action Cruise has augmented the stunt repertoire with motorcycle-parachuting, raising his game.
Skimming through the Cruise filmography, he’s struck by how little he enjoyed Dramatic Cruise through the late eighties to early two thousands. From Rain Man to Magnolia, there were times he thought twice about watching a film if Cruise was in it. But gradually he came to realise that the high-energy movies he enjoyed the most were not just Bourne, or some of Craig’s Bond, but always reliably Action Cruise. Action Cruise is lively and full-on fun with a fair percentage of brain-bafflement, as in: Does this story have any logic at all? Because sometimes he doesn’t need to be hung-up on sense, preferring pure sensation instead.
An additional compelling component of Action Cruise is the reality of the stunts. The ‘viscereality’. It is much shared and advertised, and probably therefore common knowledge, but worth repeating anyway, that Action Cruise’s high-risk antics are real. The plot may be codswallop but the scary stunts are certified genuine as performed by Cruise. That is veritably Tom Cruise getting shot out of the cannon. Who’s that way, way up Burj Khalifa, scaling the outside of the world’s tallest skyscraper with just a pair of suction gloves for grip? That’s Tom Cruise. (Not an unsung stunt artist. And not CGI.) Where previously there was the Dramatic Cruise of thespian fakery, now there’s Action Cruise risking it all. With this elevation of the ‘Real’, the best pretend Cruise could summon has been supplanted by the most ‘real’ Cruise can deliver.
He remembers sitting in the cinema, him and a young Annoying Son in two thousand eleven, watching Mission: Impossible Part Four, Ghost Protocol. They were in the grip of the centrepiece Burj Khalifa stunt and for the first time he properly woke up to the reality of the Action Cruise phenomenon. The legend, as told by Matt Damon, is that planning Ghost Protocol Cruise was pushing hard to take the franchise to a higher level. But the production stunt manager stood in his way, vetoing free-climbing Burj as ‘too dangerous’. So Cruise fired the guy and hired a new stunt manager.
The high-wire antics of Action Cruise have wowed audiences for several years, but a critical appreciation has been slow to form. However, in early summer twenty twenty three, with the stunt excellence of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, finally high praise rolled across the news media, from detailed appraisals to dedicated broadsheet editorials, as the commentariat got to their feet to acclaim Cruise’s ‘eye-popping exploits’ that ‘uphold the magic of cinema’
There was a time you couldn’t say Tom Cruise without saying Scientology. But lately the public imaginary for Cruise comprises two interconnected Toms: The ageless film star jumping off of stuff and the global movie phenomenon who returns to save cinema almost annually. Saves it from Covid, the comfort of streamers, or basic stay-at-home apathy, by getting the masses back into the multiplexes with his Top Gun reboot or the latest slab of Mission: Impossible. And one of the reasons Cruise saves cinema is by leaping headlong into the Real.
While he finds the spiral stairs at work vertiginous, Action Cruise is thousands of feet up in the air. The helicopter door slides open and the smiling movie star jumps out. Airborne Action Cruise is now a prominent part of his PR and brand strategy. In May twenty twenty three, Cruise accepted an MTV Movie & TV Award from the cockpit of a fighter aircraft. Flying the plane in and out of clouds, Tom could be heard over the engine’s roar thanking the fans, shouting, ‘I love entertaining you!’ In a teaser video on Instagram, Action Cruise is hanging backwards off the side of an aircraft screaming: ‘It truly is the honour of a lifetime!’
Which brings us to the latest Mission: Impossible and the bike-off-a-cliff event. For the stunt of a lifetime, Action Cruise rides his motorbike over the edge of a twelve-hundred metre-high precipice. Plummeting down the concave vertical cliff face, Cruise and bike part company mid air as he opens his parachute – heading down to earth base-jump style.
‘In the movie theatre where I watched the film,’ reports professional stunt artist Amy Johnston, ‘as soon as he dropped, the audience was just dead silent. Everybody was trying to hold their breath, kind of they all felt like they were just having a heart attack.
‘…Cruise knows how to bring the realism,’ continues Johnston, who worked on Marvel movies Deadpool and Captain America. ‘You can see that it’s happening to him in closeup, like the effect of freefall on his face… It adds to the experience, and audiences definitely feel that.’
The bike-off-a-cliff event was more gripping than he’d anticipated but fortunately not like a heart attack. Putting excitement to one side, the stunt is a statement of renewal, a reminder: Yes, cinema can do this.
Later, safely back home from the cinema, he watches the official promo on the making of the cliff stunt. The sequence took a year to prepare and execute. Cruise trained up by completing more than five hundred skydives and thirteen thousand bike jumps over an eighty feet mound. (Thirteen thousand bike jumps!) A practice ramp was constructed in a quarry in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, stacked with fall-breaking plastic bags. Production then quit Oxfordshire for Norway and Helsetkopen, a tall looming rocky vertical, where Cruise did it for real, riding high speed over the edge. Watched again, cut off from the rest of the movie, this marvel of action virtuosity is even more arresting. However, the biggest jaw drop comes after.
As Cruise parasails back to earth, landing all safe and smiles for a triumphant round of high fives, the twelve months of planning and preparing, and perhaps dreading, is finally done, with his most daring exploit ever safely in the can. And what does the world’s wackiest movie star do next? The rest of humanity, they land, they mutter thank fuck it’s over. No more stress. I survived. Action Cruise though, being not quite of this planet, grins and says, let’s go again. Director Christopher McQuarrie assures him they got the shot and it’s all good. But Cruise thinks maybe it could be better. So they repeat. And they repeat again. Seven times the same day Cruise rode his fast bike headlong off a very tall cliff, down into the abyss – for real.
This Cruise fixation for the Real interlaces with a Rogue Nation story premise predicated upon the malicious threat of AI. The Rogue Nation plot-line doesn’t require close critical attention – functioning largely to grease the movie from action sequence to next action sequence. Nonetheless, the planetary calamity posed by a malevolent, autonomous, belligerent computer network known as the Entity is thoroughly timely. To outwit the lethal Entity, Action Cruise and his back-up crew (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) ditch their digital systems and go analogue – keeping it Real.
It is an agreeable moment of historical coincidence, a bit zeitgeist, that finds Mission Impossible facing off against AI in the same summer that all the brightest stars in Hollywood were out on strike, successfully protesting the wage depression and threat to future livelihoods posed by the corporate misuse of machine learning. The latest Action Cruise blockbuster joined an ongoing inter-disciplinary conversation, but also served as a legend for our conjuncture in which once again Cruise comes to the rescue, seeking to save not only movies but all humanity from bad tech. But does Action Cruise succeed?
Spoiler alert, Rogue Nation climaxes with Cruise hanging by a thread. Literally his butt dangling from the blown-out back of a train that’s going to fall off the side of a tall mountain any second. Not only this, Cruise is also holding on to Hayley Atwell – who has totally run out of her own thread to dangle from. It’s definitively a cliffhanger. And while we can guess how this paused climax plays out, the upshot won’t be confirmed until the next Mission: Impossible arrives in summer twenty twenty five.
It’s a long time to wait. Will people remember where we left off and will they care? As summer twenty twenty three developed, news trickled out that earnings were down on Dead Reckoning, with box office modest compared to the last Mission: Impossible and the previous summer’s Top Gun reprise. Like every other summer blockbuster, Action Cruise got battered by Barbenheimer, and it’s rumoured this time the man who regularly saves cinema didn’t make his money back. Was Action Cruise belatedly starting to creak with superannuation at the box office – the Action Cruise ankles still good for foot races, but the role of saving cinema singlehanded increasingly his achilles heel?
The following day, Saturday, Gala comes to his house early.
Still groggy from a misspent late night watching Cruise jumping, he tries and fails to explain his complicated feelings about a distant movie icon being so intimidatingly lively. They watch the cat from his bedroom window and then go for a walk.
As they climb the hill through the park, the summer sun glinting between the tree trunks contributing to the vaporousness of the day, he wonders if all his Cruise talk makes him a beige-flag partner. He read about it online, the red-beige-green interpersonal flag system. Having preoccupations that come and go is not a red flag, but fixating on Action Cruise, albeit for one weekend only, could be coded as beige and not green. And yet, our looping thoughts, apparently leading to nowhere, are often the critical building blocks.
He has asked Gala to come try the new hybrid coffee spot on the high street. He is already smitten and hopes she will feel the same. The spot serves fresh roasted brews and pastries but also sells cool cycling gear, mostly its own niche brand. As they close in on their destination, a man in front, wearing bright cheerful Lycra, sporting cleats and a cowboy’s gait, trails a cloud of cologne that makes the morning actually nicer.
The Perfumed Cyclist holds the cafe door for them, providing a second draft of fragrance, plus a lived-in smile. Here again is the tranquil, pleasing interior of grey cinder blocks and muted recess lights. Rails of multicoloured bike outfits wrap round two sides of the front end of the hybrid, with racks of funky bike caps climbing up the wall. He gives in their order and they head into the open-air courtyard out back.
The next bench along, the Perfumed Cyclist has joined his crew of guys dressed for a long day in the saddle. Presently they are discussing their route. He looks at the men for perhaps longer than he should, wondering at the pouchy body contours that are part of the Lycra look. Everybody’s keeping score. He imagines the Fine Specimen from work in another coffee shop this morning, on the opposite side of the city, making ready for a long trip out in the countryside. It is a gorgeous summer’s day; and set to last. There will be packs of bikes out in the hills before it’s noon, snaking round bends as they flood past curved fields, forcing up slopes, and plunging towards speckled woods pungent with sap.
It’s all these miles in the saddle that keeps the Fine Specimen in tip-top shape. He wants to probe Gala for her take on cycleware, its clinginess, and the potential for a new eroticisation of the male core. She told him soon after they first met that men who cycle have nicer butts in a throwaway comment that inevitably has stayed with him because so much that’s throwaway does.
Where have you gone?
He looks across at Gala. You were on your phone.
I know. She nods at the device now left alone on the table. But where were your thoughts, lover?
(There’s a universe going on underground.) He says his thoughts were scattered. I think I have attentional fitness issues. I guess me and the whole world.
Physical fitness for brains. It was in the paper. (So much stuff in the paper.) I was thinking about men in Lycra and Tom Cruise again. Also the guy at work who cycles lots.
You never really know what’s going on inside with another.
Now he’s thinking of the Magazine song, You Never Knew Me. I don’t move fast at all these days. The faraway lyric that caught up with him finally.
When I was seventeen, me and my best friend were out in the West End on a Saturday night with nothing to do. For a wind-up, we went into a Scientology recruitment centre on Tottenham Court Road. It’s still there today. There were two American girls in white dresses and pretty. They gave us coffee and biscuits and a detailed questionnaire. My audit taker said the results of my interrogation showed I was a deeply troubled young man but they could help. (Said the same thing to my friend.) They gave us a book about dianetics. Next day, I showed my parents, who had conniptions. He pauses, examines the back of his hands smiling at the memory.
The adjacent bike guys gather up and roll out. Speaking loudly to each other as they quit their table, pre-ride camaraderie surging, the quartet steer their two-wheelers down the narrow passage leading back onto the high street. The Perfumed Cyclist is the last to depart, briefly glancing this way and then he’s gone.
He wonders if he too should be on his bike, off out for the afternoon pushing through the knee ache like a trooper.
To promote the new Mission Impossible, trooper Tom Cruise spent several arduous weeks on the road, criss-crossing the globe smiling through a long line of premieres. ‘Thank you to the people of Abu Dhabi,’ reads a June post on social media with a photo of a beaming Cruise. In another update, Cruise offers thanks to ‘the people of Rome’ and a third sends out salutations to ‘everyone in Seoul’, and so on.
Cruise is famously good on the red carpet. But is not saying much otherwise. After too many car crash moments with mainstream media, these days Cruise sticks to soundbites and Kleig-light smiles. There are pre-recorded interview clips. Demarcated group press junkets are also a go. Even fluffy convivial late-night-talk-show chats that stay on message. But nothing in-depth; or anywhere close.
During this extended period of becoming more ‘Real’ onscreen, Cruise has become increasingly unknown. His last thorough-going interview was for Playboy magazine in twenty twelve, in which the superstar confessed to being ‘very happy’ and described how much he adored ‘creating romantic dinners’ for his wife Katie Holmes – ‘an extraordinary person’. A month after the interview, Holmes filed for divorce.
Since then, there has been very little hard Cruise news, leaving us with only second-hand scraps to feed off. We know for instance that Cruise once landed his helicopter in James Corden’s garden. We also learned that every Christmas Cruise sends fellow stars a much-prized chocolate coconut cake. But not Brooke Shields, who apparently fell off the Cruise mailing list after moving house. Actor Kyra Sedgwick reports that there is, or was, a panic button under the mantle piece at one of the Cruise homes because she pressed it feeling curious and soon after a small army of police showed up. And Kate Hudson divulged the very obvious news that Cruise loves skydiving.
Maybe this is all the Cruise news we need. Each time the long promotional cycle for a new movie concludes, having thanked everyone for allowing him to entertain them, Cruise vanishes: turning his back on the world until next time…
But where does Cruise go? His elusiveness is tantalising – well, sort of. Or can be if you have become drawn in. Not only do we not know what Cruise is doing when he’s not jumping out of helicopters, we have no idea where he’s not doing it. Even the world’s leading number one Tom Cruise super-fan, a woman based in Brazil, cannot put a pin on his whereabouts. The super-fan, who has compiled and maintains the largest online repository of Cruise news and Tom intelligence, admits there is no firm conclusive info on where the secretive superstar lays his hat. She is however confident it’s not LA, not New York, and that the primary Cruise residence is definitely nowhere near to the Florida HQ of the Church of Scientology, as some have suggested. What the Brazilian super-fan has observed, however, is that Cruise appears to spend ‘most of the time’ in Britain.
Substantial segments of the three most recent Mission: Impossible movies were filmed across the British Isles. Cruise has never publicly commented on the rumours that he lives among us, but did confess in a rare interview, from September 2022, with Derbyshire Life magazine, of all venues, to spending ‘a lot of time in Britain’.
The spectacular train sequence in Rogue Nation was filmed in Derbyshire, which probably explains how Cruise came to be exclaiming to Derbyshire Life ‘Wow! Derbyshire — what a fantastic place!’ In the same interview Cruise makes a confession. ‘I guess I am an Anglophile… I love being in Britain because everyone is pleasant and will give you a nod or say hello without crowding you too much.’ For Derbyshire Life Cruise also reveals his appreciation of British politeness: ‘Being friendly doesn’t cost a bean, and I enjoy it’.
It’s not so far from Derbyshire to Birmingham. Somewhere else we know Cruise visited lately. In an excellent example of Celebs Do Ordinary Things, Tom stopped off in Birmingham for the night and went out for a curry. But in an equally excellent example of Celebs Do the Funniest Things, Cruise loved his chicken tikka masala that much he straight up ordered a second and scoffed it all again.
Intermittent sightings of Cruise across the other side of the Atlantic have not passed un-noticed in the US. Around Dead Reckoning’s release a curious staff writer for the New York Times decided to come to the UK and go looking for Cruise – in what turned out to be an impossible mission, but for the writer, at least, a rich subjective experience
For some years, a curious Cruise rumour has circulated suggesting that Tom hangs in Biggin Hill, a small town situated on the London-Kent borders. Not in nearby Badgers Mount. Or folk horror-sounding Horns Green. Not even Pratt’s Bottom for Cruise. But Biggin Hill and its own small private airport, with Cruise’s residence, rumoured, so says The Sun, to be ‘set in 140 acres of stunning rural parkland inside a posh gated community.’
Over several days, The New York Times writer traipses around Biggin Hill and thereabouts, seeking proof of Cruise. Without much confidence, she gives over hours at the airport, nearby pubs, up and down the high street, and further afield – out into the surrounding countryside, taking her intelligence gathering assignment into a long grass so long that the writer has a panic.
As she gets deeper into her search story, increasingly the journalist’s quest resembles an Ealing comedy. While some locals confidently assert that Cruise lives in the town, and that they know precisely where – ‘Yes, of course Cruise lives here. You often see him walking down the high street’ – many other residents are completely stunned by such a ridiculous, unexpected suggestion, apparently having absolutely no idea what the writer is talking about. ‘Tom Cruise. Round here? No!’
Did the locals club together for a campaign of disinformation to befuddle the nosey journo? A young man who claims he once worked at Biggin Hill airport says Cruise has his own a parking spot. But a parking spot for the Cruise car or Cruise helicopter he won’t say. Waiting for her sandwich at a local pub, the New York writer turns and asks a middle-aged man sitting at the next picnic table if it’s true Tom Cruise lives nearby.
‘He’s here,’ the man replies flatly.
‘Do you know, or are you guessing?’
‘He’s definitely around here…’ rising to the challenge. ‘I know where he is.’
The man makes a big show of having precise knowledge of where Cruise resides but that he will not be sharing this with the press. Until, on his way out, the curious fellow exits via the journalist’s table and offers, he says, ‘three clues’: That the Cruise mansion is within two miles of the airport; is the biggest property around by far; and is also a building of some historic significance.
The New York writer is pretty dubious about this latest intel. She suspects she knows which biggest property – the Manor House – and that it actually doesn’t belong to Cruise. The alleged Manor House was once the country home of prime minister William Pitt the Younger. But the online land registry says that in 2018 it was sold for £8.5 million to a used car mogul – something confirmed during a twenty twenty interview with the mogul in Car Dealer magazine.
After one final longish afternoon spent off-grid walking through fields, then trespassing on private land, before being rudely chased away, the journalist confirms to her satisfaction that Cruise does not live in the Manor House and soon after she flies back to America, defeated.
Martin Scorsese once proposed that ‘Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.’
A working week of hot daytimes and long warm nights passes in a semi haze. The following Saturday morning, he finds himself going back to the coffee slash bike shop. This time, however, he’s come alone and early – here for a sample sale as much as second breakfast. The place is already teeming as the men in cleats root through overflowing brown boxes pulling bargain collections together. He had no idea there’d be long queues. The shop owner has had to roll up his sleeves and muck in with making the coffee.
As he waits in line to place his order, he spots a sale box with some stripy socks hanging out the top, and feeling as usual that he could use some new socks, he experiences a momentary charge of agitation deep inside. His Saturday morning calm momentarily vacates as he procrastinates over the socks. Does he give up his place in the queue and go over there right now while there are great deals still to be claimed? Of course he will need to crouch to get properly stuck in, and lately the knees don’t like crouching. But also there’s the risk of the cinnamon buns running out.
The truth is he has always found sale shopping a challenge compared to regular buying. Something about sales induces mild nausea – a kind of revulsion that is also a rising desire. He decides to sod the socks and just get the coffee. After all, capitalism thrives on bad feelings. Discontented people buy more stuff, he tells himself, sceptically watching the men in cleats browse on. He should quit lusting after socks, forget musing about Action Cruise, and do more for his knees. Maybe teach himself to run again.
Click to present: He joins a gym.