Tweaky

It said in the paper that among the cheating techniques used by the recently heavily fined game show broadcaster ITV was the pre-selection of contestants based on an assessment of ‘whether they would be suitably lively on camera.’ On one occasion, ‘a winner who was already known to the production team was chosen because they were considered “bubbly”‘.
bubbly.jpgI think there may be some tips available here. While it’s clear that ‘bubbly’ is a gendered quality I see no real reason why men should not effervesce in their own manly way. It is obviously better to bubble than be an ill-dressed, hesitant, soup-flecked party whose intellect and accompanying non-aspergised (see previous post) knowledge specialisms have depth and texture that would enable them to sweep the game show floor. It may be the case, however, that some readers, while drawing a line at identifying with the soup element in the profile submitted above might feel, nevertheless, that all that has hitherto lain between themselves and nationwide small screen exposure is a deficit in the outgoing department.
It would be good, then, to be able to imitate bubbly even if one were essentially saturnine. It may be that one would say privately, to oneself, ‘I poo poo bubbly’ but this need not stand in the way of its affectation. To do it well we must work on our body image. Not what the body looks like but how it is seen in the mind. If, say, one often thought of oneself as a wad of damp, abandoned fabric being passed peristaltically through a dark, interminable tube made of insufficiently greased asbestos then it should be possible, and cognitive behavioral therapists will support me warmly here, to tweak the image so that it becomes something upbeat. Even the word ‘tweak’ has bubbliness and we’ve barely begun!
What do I feel when I bubble (apart from fabulous)? Well – currents of joie, for one thing. They tinkle along the arms and legs, pixillating my very fibres and inducing a slightly jumpy and erratic muscular activity which translates as shrugging, eyebrow raising, eye widening and the delicious like. It’s a force, really, and when you let it flow it shows people how alive you are. The bubbles actually shape the way your lips move so that, like a goldfish, words escape encased in bubbles that force your mouth open gradually then allow it to close smoothly over the receding curvature.
Some people say that bubbly is a form of depression. What do they know? A friend told me that she had been chatting with a man who worked as a fitness trainer for a prominent chain of health clubs. The company had been taken over by another well known and tentacular company so the latter had to give all the staff new uniforms in a different colour and retrain them so that the logos on their mental imagery reflected the vivacity of the new parent. The staff were instructed to attend a retraining day in a big hall. On stage were a small number of uniformed boosters, wearing the tee shirts that would soon be given to the massed employees. Lively pop music was playing as the trainees gathered. It was known that the boosters were looking for new people to work as managers of various teams in the clubs.
Most of the employees were depressed and resigned because that’s what spray-on ebullience does to you, so they stood around looking interested and trying on various versions of alertness. There then bounced into the hall a young woman in shorts,tee shirt, a peak cap and spotless sneakers. She too, like the sullen figures around her, was a staff re-trainee. The young woman, to the despair and fascination of her colleagues, proceeded to dance around the room to the beats of the popular upbeat music. She emitted small but excited yipping noises and smiled continually.
The boosters invited her up onto the stage and told her she had exactly what it took to be a team leader. And lo, she became one.

Nerdly

The Guardian runs a piece about the rash of current imported US TV series featuring the adventures and misfortunes of nerds. Bryan Fuller, the creator of Pushing Daisies feels, according to the article, that “…in America, we need heroes. There is a lot of powerlessness given our current administration.” An inverted logic suggests, it seems, that an administration by the powerless would therefore be preferable. sellers.jpgPeter Sellers, in Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979) plays Chance, a gardner whose blank simplicity is mistaken for elliptical wisdom. He ends up being President. Bush’s simplicity has intermittently elliptic qualities but it is clear his inscrutability is not an effect of wisdom. Neither Bush nor Chance are nerds, however. Nerds know a lot about certain things and bring to their knowledge a great precision. Their characteristics may even be locatable on a continuum that features degrees of Asperger’s syndrome, wherein knowledge and interest are focused on unusually narrow topics, such as railway timetables or historical cricket scores.



Were one affected with just a hint of Asperger’s one might fail to detect it in others and think to oneselflawnmower.jpg “My – if his grasp of the ways of humankind is as developed as his knowledge of petrol-driven lawnmowers then he’s the man to lead us out of the current shit!” When leaders expatiate in abstractions the air grows thin and dangerous. With a nerd, however, you get two for one – they’ll get the trains running on time because they love trains plus they get agoraphobic in the presence of abstraction.
The pressure on the non-Asperger individual to aspergise is considerable – the consumer, for example, must resist the Argos catalogue of everyday life by acquiring expertise in matters of classification and specification. The more you know about mobile phones the less likely you are to get stiffed by those who would (virtually) mobilise you. The internalisation of such data brings the satisfactions of mastery and distinctiveness. Ballard felt that in the 21st century the most successful psychological type would be the psychopath – it may be that the backlash features the rise of the nerd.

We Can Can

gentrify.jpgLeake Street, round the back of Waterloo Station, Sunday after London votes for a clown. Thousands enter Banksy’s tunnel for the Cans Festival.






























polite.jpgBanksy has invited can artists from all over. Keen crowds necessitate heavy polite presence. The arcade beckons.















milobrew.jpg As far as the eye. All the way down. Not just Banksy’s sharp stencils but wrecked car installations, sculptures and pavement pieces.






























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tutupope.jpgThe last time I felt like a citizen in this way was at one of Ken’s big riverside festivals in the GLC days. Not that the Cans Festival feels civic – more that this zone, 300 metres from Parliament, holds people from the streets, the estates and the houses quite comfortably. Oxford Street with nothing to buy. They’re sealing it off after Bank Holiday Monday.






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Wordly

Strength Weekly looks in upon itself and affects surprise at the uncharacteristically long interval between this notelet and the previous essay-length disquisition. The publisher notes, in this notelet, that he has been, throughout the months of March and April, reading 52 undergraduate dissertations, each one of which is 5000 words, give or take 10 per cent, in length. A quarter of a million words, readers. Is it any wonder?
bandball.jpgStrength Weekly will now reconnect with the blogarium, bringing its mix of puzzles, quizzes, well-formed sentences, apt snaps and joie de vivre back to the boil. Today I saw a tiny fox cub in the back garden. It was about this long, excepting the tail.











Undomain

David Lynch’s ‘Inland Empire’ (2006) is three hours and twelve minutes long. The first hour is inspiring, the next frustrating, the third (on a second viewing) tragic and beautiful. Back in March 2007 I wanted, after 90 mins, to run from the cinema but felt I couldn’t because I like Lynch’s work so very much. A few months later I found two excellent essays about the film: ‘Something got out from inside the story – Lynch’s Unhome Videos’ in k-punk here and the second, ‘Inland Empire’, in American Stranger here. (The essay has been removed from the latter site but I am grateful to traxus4420 for kindly sending me a copy.) k-punk observes that the film ‘often seems like a series of dream sequences floating free of any ostensible reality, a dreaming without a dreamer (as all dreams really are) – no frame is secure, all attempts at embedding fail.’ inlandtitle.jpgThe protracted absence of ‘a dreamer’ may explain why the movie exhausts at a first viewing. Girded for a revisit as a result of receiving illumination from the aforementioned essays, I bought the DVD and determined to go back down those dark, scratchy corridors in order to put myself in the picture.
It’s good that there are people in the world who will synopsise movies with labyrinthine and intractable plots in order that the rest of us may clarify just exactly what it was we just saw. Such exactitude is only notional in this case but a robust public service is delivered by Wikipedia here and provides succour and encouragement for the return match, as does fourfour’s wry frame assembly here, which serialises the consternation that envelops each of Laura Dern’s three characters throughout the movie.
The Wiki plot summary is thorough but a further order of compression may prove more workable. Laura Dern’s character, the actress Nikki, is preparing for a role in a new film. The film is not as new as it seems, it’s a remake of an earlier Polish movie whose male and female leads were murdered. The film is cursed. Something gets out from inside the story or, as American Stranger has it, ‘the staged events of the film shoot bleed into the apparently actual events of the actors’ lives…it rapidly becomes uncertain which of the two ‘worlds’ contains the other.’ dern.jpgAs a consequence of this osmosis and confusion, Sue – the character in Nikki’s new movie – stumbles into Nikki’s world and Nikki gets lost in the world of the enchanted script. Further down the line, in Hour 2, elements of the original film also draw Nikki in, to the extent that she (or Sue) finds herself, from time to time, in Poland, embroiled in a murder scenario. Hour 3 sees Sue, who has become a hooker, dying from a stab wound among homeless people at Hollywood and Vine. When she is dead, the director of Nikki’s film calls ‘Cut!’ and Nikki gets up. She wanders into a cinema where she sees Sue on screen, acting in the film she has just been working on.
Hour 2 is fairly gruelling insofar as standard physics, geography and history are out the window. But as k-punk remarks ‘…the space involved is ontological, rather than merely physical.’ Hour 2 is not fantasy in any genre sense, nor can it be domesticated with reference to the unfolding of any psychological pathology within the protagonists. If madness is at hand it’s an effect of the shadow of an old, old reality that, some would contend, predates the individual’s acquisition of language. Take away that acquisition and where’s the physics that would keep the geography in the right history?
If Lynch is not toying with the psychic Jurassic then there is another way of categorising the effect he delivers: the films are, of course, ‘dream-like’ and, in this instance, ‘nightmarish’. It seems an obvious thing to say, and the terms are usually scattershot across arts commentary as if they explained something. They usually explain little and constitute a classic passing of the critical buck. Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ (1977) was more deserving of the terms insofar as people, objects and events in the scenario could be understood to stand for other less palatable ideas and urges, even if the act of interpretation itself was not a straightforward and convenient translation. The film is often described as Lynch’s ‘most personal’, suggesting that the dreamer himself is close at hand. If this is the case then the film has passed through him and can be passed through him.bigwing.jpg The absence of the dreamer, the absence of a conventional script, the low ‘strange object’ count (no severed ears, no babies made out of skinned lamb’s heads etc) place ‘Inland Empire’ adjacent to but not in Dreamland. Recalling k-punk’s description of the film as ‘a series of dream sequences floating free of any ostensible reality’ – the possibility arises that these are sequences that are more urgent than the urgently personal, their resemblance to dreams and nightmares is misleading, they are certainly unhome and uncanny but of the waking world.
lynch.jpgIt’s tempting to wonder if we believe that David Lynch has access to something that, by definition, no one has access to. He doesn’t seem like the sort of guy who would try to work out the qualities and logics of such an unrealm. Described hither and thither as an ‘intuitive’ artist, Lynch’s utterances, often elliptical to the point of blankness, and his body of work pre-‘Inland Empire’, suggest a man who has cleared out (or was never encumbered by) critical and editorial processes to an extent that would have been the envy of Surrealist employers of cadavre exquis, scissor wielding cutupists, aleatory musicians and ether-sniffing jumblists in their attempts to override the rider.
Whatever – Lynch presents a take on a Place without Time and a Time without Place. Even he, according to reports, resorted to a degree of intuitivised jumblism on IE, starting the shoot without a script and delivering dialogue to the actors on a nightly basis. This is, literally, self-defeating and, no doubt, precisely what was required. It’s not that artistry must be defeated, however, it is applied later, after the contents have surfaced and must then be seized and shaped.
The movie depicts magical processes at work, insofar as ritual acts of concentration and refinement – as practised in rehearsal and discussion – are seen to dilute the barriers between categories of experience to the point where thought and desire actually reshape the world. Anecdote supports this magicality at many stages of the fiction-making process – writers are familiar with the conjuring of versions of their fictions into their everyday lives. Crudely – write a novel about someone breaking their leg and halfway through the first draft you sprain your ankle. (Note to young writers: this only happens now and again.) Not really magic but certainly a product of focused invocation.
A less debilitating aspect of fiction-making is seen in the business of affairs between directors, actresses and actors. There’s nothing like a collectively organised art-form for facilitating alliances and dalliances. Affairs spring up on film sets and in theatres as if there were something in the water. Attractive and usually young humans not only fondle each other in love scenes in a thoroughly professional way you understand but have often been led by their training to believe that the cultivation and maintenance of strong emotions (those which are relevant to the project in hand) outside of rehearsal and performance can only intensify and enhance performance. It’s probably true.
Similarly, given the great sense of responsibility, interdependency and attendant tension felt by directors and actors working on a project, directors and actresses/actors tend to fall in love. It’s a special kinda love, though, and not to be confused – as it often is – with setting up or settling down together. dernkyle.jpg(However, we cannot refrain from observing that Laura Dern, having worked on ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986) with Kyle MacLachlan – an actor often seen as Lynch’s on-screen alter ego – subsequently stepped out with him for four years. We should also recall Lynch’s own relationship with BV star Isabella Rossellini and remind ourselves that Rossellini’s father was Roberto and her mother Ingrid Bergman. If physics, geography and history are removed from these genealogies then we may find support for the presence of a pervading psychoanalytical fantasy of generational transfusion wherein intimacy with daughters secures intimacy with their fathers and vice versa. The vice versa, in this case, would secure intimacy for the father with the daughter if the surrogate son were the prime physical agent. Much as film scripts may appear to transmit the genius of their writers, the empassioned claustrophobias of rehearsal give rise to the sexualisation of transmissions that may actually be more concerned with the acquisition of skills.)
To attribute magical power to a film script because it contributes to showbiz romances is, however, needlessly whimsical. Notwithstanding the tiresome ‘excitement’ surrounding ‘the Scottish play’ (wherein awful things happen to actors performing ‘Macbeth’)(here, if you must), at the end of the day a bunch of people sit around and concentrate on a sheaf of pages, applying their various skills and sharing developmental aspirations. A reality is suggested then consolidated. The resemblance to magic is structural only.
Seen in these workaday terms, the phenomenon of ‘fiction leakage’ seems rather ordinary and predictable. In the case of ‘Inland Empire’, though, there wasn’t a script, despite the film being about scripts, and the pages came, one learns, in small instalments. Nor was there ‘character development’, that staple of the respectable fiction.dernlynch.jpg In IE it’s location, location, location. Laura Dern’s characters have a hard time whoever they are and wherever they are. This is because the geography is so fucked up. Dern herself is widely reported as not having a clue why she was where she was, in the course of the filming. The spaces which constantly spook her are more than enough to be getting on with, character development is superfluous in these flared-out, migrained video hallways.
A reductive reading – not necessarily a bad thing – would see the spooking spaces as mental states inhabited by one person with three aspects (Nikki, Sue, the hooker). A slightly more expansive reading would posit a realm in which narcissism and restricted capacities for empathy enable the subject to experience others merely as elements of herself. These are psychologically wholesome readings insofar as they aspire to produce psychological wholes from psychological holes. They are conservative, however, and feel a bit old hat. Lynch has been there and done that (‘Lost Highway’ (1997) and ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001)).
Anyway, things have moved on since the days of character development – the physics has changed. The artistry purportedly implicit in the gradual unfolding of character has been replaced by speedy teleportation. In LH and MD the shifts are shocking but they merely bisect the films. In IE shifts occur every few minutes.
IE is uncanny because the uncanny is premised on the familiar. What, then, is it that we recognise in all this punishing, protracted discontinuity? Dern’s characters struggle to escape places in which everything is in between, nothing is homely, nowhere is anywhere for very long, all is fiction and fictions contaminate all that they touch, including other fictions. If dependable identity is one such fiction then one of its functions is to innoculate the badge holder against less reliable badges. If you lose your immunity then other fictions become interchangeable, they have more in common than they have distinctions. If you lose your immunity you are both locked out and engulfed. You can’t get back home, even though there are doors and corridors that lead there. Immuno-deficient, you are entranced by anything that pops up and defenceless as it spits you out.
American Stranger says “Perhaps this is Lynch’s vision of how our world must end – ‘our world’ as a hyperreal, self-absorbed Inland Empire where everything is merely an advertisement in empty performance for everything else, an ultrasaturated luxury market poised for collapse into its outside.” hooker.jpgA world of strident, heeby-jeeby micro-worlds choc-a-bloc with seductors and bullies, sugar highs and grinding lows, the cold sweat of homelessness and undomain. As she dies in the street, ‘the hooker’ is told a story by another vagrant street girl. The girl tells the hooker about her friend whose vagina wall has a hole torn in it that leads to her intestine. System walls are breached. The systems work well when properly separated but once breached: contamination, fever, the long walks of the undead, ever between stations.

Lots: Extract II

Another extract from a script that I lost for 24 years. To get the backstory on this publishing phenomenon please start reading here.
The detectives Jean Pool and Max Cope, with their client Anna Domino, arrive in Australia in the middle of the night. The have flown there in order to locate Mister Cook, whose name has been found at the top of a chain letter circulated to, amongst others, Anna. Anna has engaged the services of Max and Jean in order to locate Peter, with whom she is in love. Peter has disappeared but is mentioned in the chain letter and Anna is convinced he may be its instigator. Mister Cook may know his whereabouts.
Jean, Max and Anna have been given a car because they needed a car. It was given to them by an Australian man called Tom. They find a pleasant, empty house well stocked with food. They stay in the house. Despite the great heat, one night it snows and
WE SEE THROUGH THE KITCHEN WINDOW INTO THE NIGHT, WHERE LARGE SNOW FLAKES SWIRL IN THE PURPLE DARKNESS.
ANNA I love snow. It’s like a great white carpet.
MAX I’d never thought of that.
JEAN Go and get some, Max.
MAX What for?
JEAN It’ll look nice on the table.
MAX Okay.
MAX GETS UP AND LEAVES THE KITCHEN.
ANNA Have you had any experiences with snow, Jean?
JEAN I spent many of my earliest years in temperate zones and as a consequence was no stranger to the flurries. We couldn’t leave the house for days sometimes. I used to stand in the garden and wish I wasn’t an only child.
ANNA I didn’t know.
JEAN My parents were quite superstitious. My father told my mother that there was a fifty percent chance of having a boy if they tried again.
ANNA That’s accurate, I think.
JEAN Yes. He said that if she had a boy it would only turn round and kill him and then go off in a blind rage, so what’s the point?
ANNA He sounds a complex man.
JEAN I wanted a brother, Anna.
ENTER MAX, CARRYING A SNOWBALL.
MAX I made up a ball. They carry better.
JEAN Put it on the table, Max.
MAX Do you want it on a dish?
JEAN Just on the mat will be fine.
MAX PUTS THE SNOWBALL ON A TABLE MAT, IN THE CENTRE OF THE TABLE.
JEAN GAZES AT IT WISTFULLY.
MAX We should stick something in it.
JEAN It looks lovely, Max.
ANNA Jean told me about her garden.
MAX About her brother, you mean?
JEAN Yes.
MAX We’re both only children, Anna.
ANNA I didn’t know.
MAX My first bicycle was a tandem. I imagined that my sister was behind me.
ANNA Why behind?
MAX You can only steer from the front. I would have fallen off.
ANNA Is that why your legs are so strong?
MAX Yes. We used to go on cycling holidays together.
DISSOLVE TO LATER IN THE MEAL.
THE MAIN COURSES HAVE ALL BEEN EATEN, AS WELL AS THE VEG.
THE DINERS ARE SITTING BACK IN THEIR CHAIRS, WIPING THEIR MOUTHS WITH SERVIETTES, SIPPING WINE ETC.
THE SNOW BALL IS INTACT.
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR.
ANNA MOVES TO THE DOOR AND OPENS IT.
TWO SNOW COVERED FIGURES ARE STANDING IN THE DOORWAY.
THROUGHOUT THE ENSUING ACTION THE SNOW DOES NOT MELT.
ONE OF THE FIGURES, A WOMAN, IS WEARING SMART SUMMER CLOTHES OF THE 1910 PERIOD, WHILE THE MAN HAS AN ELEGANT, EXPENSIVE AND SIMILARLY SUMMERY ENSEMBLE IN A CONTEMPORARY MODE. BOTH HAVE SUN TANS AND DARK HAIR AND ARE CARRYING CASES OF SOME SORT.
ANNA Can I help you?
SILVIA Is Max Cope in ?
ANNA Yes. He’s right here. Who is it?
SILVIA I’m Silvia Cope. His sister.
ANNA How nice!
SILVIA INTRODUCES THE MAN BESIDE HER.
SILVIA This is Victor Pool.
ANNA You must be Jean’s brother.
VICTOR That’s right. How did you know?
ANNA Something about the eyes, I think.
VICTOR Is she here?
ANNA She most certainly is. Jean! Max!
JEAN & MAX What?
ANNA What a surprise! Some people to see you!
JEAN AND MAX RISE FROM THE TABLE.
ANNA USHERS THE VISITORS IN.
Do come in!
THE SIBLINGS CONFRONT EACH OTHER.
SILVIA Hello Max.
MAX Good heavens.
VICTOR Hello Jean.
JEAN I don’t believe it.
SILVIA How are you?
MAX It’s extraordinary.
VICTOR You look great.
JEAN I don’t believe it.
THE SIBLING PAIRS EMBRACE.
MAX Silvia!
JEAN Victor!
A few pages later…

    SCENE 25

MAX’S ROOM.
LATER THAT NIGHT.
MAX AND SILVIA ARE LYING ON THE BED TOGETHER. THEY HAVE THEIR ARMS AROUND EACH OTHER AND ARE GIGGLING AND WHISPERING TO EACH OTHER.
THERE IS NO HINT OF DARKER PASSIONS HERE, ONLY THE FONDNESS OF FAMILIAL FAMILIARITY.

    SCENE 26

JEAN’S ROOM.
LATER THAT NIGHT.
JEAN AND VICTOR ARE ASLEEP UNDER A BLANKET ON THE BED. THEY ARE CLOTHED. THEY LOOK SERENE, CONTENT AND RELAXED WITH EACH OTHER.
The Strength Weekly Promise: I shall be posting the two lost television scripts, ‘Lots’ and ‘Jean Pool’ in their entirety in the Plays section of this site. Soonish. Do not watch this space so much as one that will resemble it.

Lots: Extract I

This is an extract from a longlost then recently found script that I have been going on about. Please read posts from Lots: Episode 1 onwards to get the backstory.
The scene containing my favourite line arises moments after the detectives Jean Pool and Max Cope, with their client Anna Domino, arrive in Australia in the middle of the night. The have flown there in order to locate Mister Cook, whose name has been found at the top of a chain letter circulated to, amongst others, Anna. Anna has engaged the services of Max and Jean in order to locate Peter, with whom she is in love. Peter has disappeared but is mentioned in the chain letter and Anna is convinced he may be its instigator. Mister Cook may know his whereabouts.
In keeping with the inflexible idiom of this television play, needs and desires are not left unfulfilled overlong.

    SCENE 9

AUSTRALIA.
A DARK, FLAT, HOT PLACE.
ANNA What do we do?
MAX We have to locate Mister Jimmy Cook. He lives about three hundred miles away.
JEAN What direction?
MAX North.
ANNA We’ll go by the stars.
JEAN It’s a shame there’s no railway here.
ANNA And no road.
MAX When the ground is flat you don’t need roads. They’re not essential.
JEAN We need a car.
A FIGURE APPROACHES THROUGH THE GLOOM.
ANNA Look!
JEAN Where’s that?
ANNA Mister Cook?
NONE OF THE CHARACTERS ENCOUNTERED IN AUSTRALIA HAS AN AUSTRALIAN ACCENT.
TOM I’m Tom.
MAX Are you Australian?
TOM Who isn’t?
MAX Us.
ANNA We wish we had a car.
JEAN I’m Jean.
TOM I was just going to say.
MAX What?
TOM I’m tired of my car.
JEAN Is it robust?
TOM They have to be. There are no roads here.
ANNA We were discussing this only a moment ago.
JEAN Well then, Tom.
TOM Well.
MAX Will you be alright without the car?
TOM I know my way around.
ANNA Of course you do.
MAX How much would you like for it?
TOM Money is no object.
MAX Up to a point. Then it is.
TOM I’d like to give it to you.
JEAN Why?
TOM When I was ten a group of men and women took me to a department store and showed me small turtles in a tank. Then we went to the tulip fields and they stood me on the luggage rack so that I could see as far as possible. All day they were making jokes and doing imitations of wellknown figures. It was a wonderful occasion. The man looked like you.
MAX Max.
TOM And one of the women, his companion, looked like you, Jean.
JEAN Yes.
TOM And the third person, their close friend, looked like you.
ANNA Anna.
TOM In fact, their names were Mac, Joan and Emma, so you can understand.
MAX Where is the motor, actually?
TOM It’s thirty paces to the North.
ANNA Where is North, if you don’t mind me asking?
TOM There.
TOM POINTS INTO THE NIGHT.
JEAN The keys are in, are they?
TOM Yes.
MAX Thank you very much, Tom.
ANNA Yes, thank you.
JEAN Yes.
A couple of pages later…

    SCENE 10

IN THE CAR.
GOING ALONG IN THE NIGHT.
MUSIC FROM THE RADIO.
…then halfway through the scene…
JEAN TURNS THE RADIO TO A MUSIC CHANNEL.
SUDDENLY IT IS DAY.
WE SEE THAT THE CAR IS DRIVING THROUGH A VAST, ARID PLAIN.
MAX (referring to the daylight) Good. They have it here.
ANNA It’s quite bare, isn’t it?
JEAN The car is red.
ANNA I love red.
JEAN I’d love to stop somewhere and rest.
…the scene continues
Next Extract: those without siblings are given them

Lots: Episode 7

This post is in a series: please start at Episode 1
After a few months, not only did I stop fretting about my BBC non-commission but I grew lazy about retrieving script copies I had distributed to potential lovers of the Next Thing in Television. At some point I released a copy to a producer friend who gave it to some other producers. For some reason that is probably uncomfortably seated in issues of personal psychology I contrived not to realise that the master copy of ‘Lots’ was now out of my possession. A few years later I started, as I often do with pieces of my writing that I’m fond of, running through scenes from ‘Lots’ in an idle manner in my head. My recollections were, perforce, approximate. I recalled writing a scene in which a character wishes that she had had a brother. Moments later there is a knock at the door. It is her brother. They embrace exultantly. That night they curl up together in bed, in a nice way. I also remembered Max and Jean and Anna driving through America in a car they had been given (everything they needed came to them – their desire was all). They had been driving at night and had not been able, therefore, to examine the car. When day broke, Max said “The car is red.” I liked that line very much. I remembered other things in the script and even had vague recollections of the second script, ‘Jean Pool’, the one I wrote because I was told to. I realised that I would very much like to see these scripts again but I could not remember where they had gone.
I wanted to see them, in part, because I regarded them as a link between two worlds of writing. Before ‘Lots’, written in 1983, I had written almost exclusively for Lumiere & Son. Because the company was ‘on the fringe’, ‘experimental’, ‘small scale’ and modestly funded, we could do what we wanted. Nobody cared. At the point of writing ‘Lots’ I was in transition. I had started doing some journalism for papers and magazines and I was drawn thereby to the idea that my plays might achieve, as broadcast events, the national exposure that some of my journalism had, relatively effortlessly, received. While this never really happened, I still felt that ‘Lost’ – as it begs to be anagrammatised – was the riskiest thing I had essayed for some years. As far as I was concerned, in its lack of compromise, ‘Lots’ was pure. When I thought about it I felt pure too.
Despite the fact that Hilary (see Episode 1) and I had enjoyed a long and close relationship, frequently characterised by the exchange of meaningful goods, I had no recollection whatsoever of giving her a copy of the script. In retrospect, considering that she is one of the more assiduous archivists of my acquaintance, I should, at least, have, perhaps, just mentioned the loss of ‘Lost’.

Lots: Episode 6

This post is in a series: please start at Episode 1
I lifted another character from the stage version of ‘Jean Pool’: Hugh, a young man who had lost his diary and engaged Jean and Max to find it. The metaphor for loss of identity was thoroughly and artlessly transparent, in the tradition of baldness that I was pleased to have evolved in my work. As soon as one premises a full length television play for the BBC on such advertent whimsy, all is lost. It will never be broadcast.
Hugh tells the detectives that he lost his diary in Greenland and suggests they go there. He can’t remember where in Greenland. They go there. The brief stage directions (as they are not called in television) read: Scene 4. Greenland. Inside an igloo. I was wilfully concocting a non-starter. In my defence I should add that similarly unadorned passages were to be found in profusion in ‘Lots’. toiletblock.jpgBut the reader should remember (see Episode 1 of this series) that in that instance I had been told, by a member of the BBC, to ‘let my imagination go.’ By so doing I had simianised the powerful and had been cast, like a block of toilet cleanser, into a place of abjectness. On this occasion I had been advised, by my representative, to consolidate a state of ‘good standing ‘ with the pre-simian (the term is used to denote a potential for simianisation rather than to posit a Darwinian non sequitur) community. I struggled only feebly with my truculence, however, because I sensed that it might ease my passage through the writing chore.
Having composed a series of scenes that appeared to offer Hugh clues as to his identity, I commenced the denouement. First Max, then Jean – in the traditional country-house mystery manner – presented their analyses of the evidence, followed by their conclusions. Each conclusion is utterly different. Max demonstrates that Hugh used to be a baker. Jean establishes that he was an astronomer. The writer had devised scenes susceptible to both interpretations. As you would.
It goes vague then. I handed the script in. They turned it down. I stayed friends with Roger. I had made a few copies of both ‘Lots’ and ‘Jean Pool’. One or two went to other producers and never came back. I never saw them again. I had no more copies. Floppy disks had not been invented. 24 years passed.
Episode 7: The unearthing. The re-assessment.

Lots: Episode 5

This post is in a series: please start at Episode 1

My agent was invariably cheerful. “Not to worry,” he said, “We’ll see if we can place it somewhere else.” And then he said “What I think we should do is you should write another one for them.” “Another play?” I squeaked. “Yes. Show them that you’re still keen and you don’t give up.” “A whole other play?” “Yes. Just write one and we’ll send it in then you’ll be in good standing with them.”
The trouble was I was annoyed with them. They had failed to recognise that I had placed the future of television drama at their disposal. They had made the Monkey Assertion. This latter had been made before, almost at the beginning of my playwriting career. Lumiere & Son had had the good fortune, quite early in its history, to present a play at the Bush Theatre in London, after a spell mounting work at the legendary Oval House Theatre. We opened a show called ‘Jack…the Flames!’ at the Bush and, for the first time, reviewers from national newspapers came to review us. (They were loath to travel south of the river unless it was for shows at the National Theatre or the Old Vic. The Bush was north of the river, in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Michael Coveney, then writing for the Financial Times, saw the show and was moved to observe that “This is the sort of show designed to make a monkey out of reviewers.” Michael, who for several decades we could only refer to as Coveney, was to be even ruder about subsequent shows, but that’s another story. After twenty years or so of pointedly ignoring him at openings and parties I found myself, towards the end of the 20th Century, able to greet him stiffly and then, a couple of years ago, at a Christmas party held for contributors to The First Post, an online newspaper to which we had both been contributing, we held a perfectly pleasant conversation in the course of which he actually almost disarmed me by mentioning that he was about to run a half marathon and, when I asked him why, said “Well, I’m a short, fat little bastard and I need the exercise.”
olympia.jpgI felt that I’d been buoyed up by Roger then stiffed by Robin. I didn’t question Roger’s motives for a moment – he was a risk-taking producer. Robin wasn’t. With heavy heart I dragged out the Olympia and tried to imagine what on earth I might do. I wrote plays because I had ideas for plays, not because a play needed to be delivered to prove a point. While it was clear that whatever I wrote would be rejected, I still felt that I couldn’t fill the sheets of A4 unless I had something mildly exciting to motivate me. I knew that I had to cut corners – the next play must take no more than a week to write and it shouldn’t involve difficulty (‘Lots’ featured the studied removal of conflict, its successor should actually be a lo-conflict writing task). I also reminded myself that I wasn’t being paid the second time around.
On occasion I have used sentences like this in Strength Weekly: ‘Then I made up my mind.’ Such slightly stylised assertions have, I think, generally been used to introduce matters of moment. Not in this case. Then I made up my mind. I would use Jean and Max again, not only that, I would call the play ‘Jean Pool’, a title I had already used for the stage. Then I wouldn’t have to think up a new title, which either takes ten minutes or three days, nothing in between. I would write a crime mystery that gets solved by detectives. There would be a problem but this time it wouldn’t go away, the detectives would have to solve it. There would be clues and deductions, I decided, irritably. They’d like that, it wouldn’t make monkeys out of them.
Episode 6: Some pages are covered with writing. A broadcaster is sent a packet.