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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

12. Armageddon will not be Televised


This week – a gloomy rant…

I enjoy a pacey paranoid action movie as much as the next person.  Give me Bruce Willis saving the world at the last second with a self-satisfied smile any day over another Jane Austen adaptation. Show me silver screen worlds exploding in Technicolor, tidal waves engulfing everyone apart from the main character plus love interest, asteroids missing the earth with only meters to spare, sudden freezes that only the good-looking survive. Dish up alien invasions from creatures able to cross galaxies but unable to anticipate a sucker punch from Will Smith. Tremendous. In reality the four horsemen of the apocalypse aren’t galloping out of the gates of hell on their white, red, black and pale green stallions, they are plodding about even now on knackered old nags in a dull, bored way because frankly they’ve nothing to do.

Is it too extreme to suggest that the woman parading down the high street with the $1,000+ designer handbag may as well be walking round with a sick child under her arm? Might the guy driving the sports car fuelled from products that could have fed people, just as well line up twenty sub-Saharan villagers and run them over? Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic for this blog space especially when theorising that Armageddon could be a surprisingly limp affair. All I’m suggesting is that like a Hollywood blockbuster, the event in all probability will not live up to the testosterone-charged trailers. It may just be a metaphorical dismal couple of hours in the dark where nothing significant happens and then it’s over.

It’s not that designer stuff is intrinsically bad nor is the fast car or any number of things that we don’t need; it’s just that life has a very simple equation to offer us, one we are constantly told is more complicated than it is. If some folk have too much others get too little. Let me say that again – if some folk have too much other folk have too little. There is no getting round it or under it. There is a connection between some people owning three cars and living in mansions and other people living on less than a dollar a day. Why does saying that feel like claiming moon is made of cheese? Perhaps because vast amounts of energy and money go into maintaining the more comfortable collective falsehood that there is no direct connection. We believe the world somehow got so complicated that 2+2 no longer = 4. But is it an unfathomable mystery that desperate farmers grow cash crops such as tobacco and coffee instead of food for their families?          

During the Blair affair with Britain we got used to the phrase “difficult decisions” which was euphemism for ‘the wrong decisions made in the face of the absolutely bloody obvious’. Though he was not the first to employ this euphemism it settled, through persistent use, as a staple of political rhetoric. In the same way that Cameron’s “I’m absolutely clear on this” as double speak for ‘this may sound like bollocks but I’m saying it anyway’ is bedding in. The idea that things are way more complicated than logic or common sense suggest is a notion we are force fed to steer us away from seeing that the emperor is wearing no clothes. The brother in arms of this falsehood is that someone who makes ‘difficult decisions’ is off the moral hook.  Sister to these two bastards is the notion that ‘there isn’t anything we can do’.

Let us deal with the first tired old horseman representing conquest and social inequality. Has there ever been an era where inequality has, in the light of our knowledge and technical skills, been more inexcusable? What I’m saying is that if our Victorian forebears could see that it was wrong, it’s got to be more wrong now. Close to home, how many of us have considered, when choosing a bank or law firm, checking what proportion of senior employees are state educated before giving them our business? I’m state educated and I haven’t.

As for war – there are more conflicts raging round the world than you could shake a stick at – using more sophisticated technology and on-going for reasons that defy not just ethical considerations but basic common sense. Death and disease are bestial bedfellows and never more so because we know so much about preventing and avoiding much of the disease that leads to premature death. Do you need to say more than that we have Viagra but no cure for Aids? The new strains of deadly malaria were upon us without adequate medicines when we’d known for years that they were heading our way or at least their way. Now that aesthetic (cosmetic) surgery is spoken of as if it’s as normal as going to the dentist, it seems outlandish to ask why personal or public resources are being spent in this direction when children die in obscene numbers for want of a diarrhoea tablet costing pence. When I was last asked my opinion on animal testing I had to say I might be more positive about it if the medicines and knowledge we already have were being used to their full effect and for everyone.

Stuff Botox and ‘shopping therapy’, if you want to feel better about the life you have, spend a week in a refugee camp and it’s likely you will have a very rosy view of your existence when you return. You may even have younger looking skin; certainly you might lose some weight. Meanwhile the bees are not pollinating properly, the ice caps are reducing, the coral reefs are dying and a huge percentage of preventable western disease is the result of affluence. The system we idolatrise is based on shoring up this monstrosity. It is ultimate pyramid selling and the pyramid is one of humanity. The world will not go out with a bang but a whimper. The four horsemen of the apocalypse returned to their hellish caverns a long time ago and are playing scrabble to pass the time. We have unemployed them.  The world is already the cancer patient in denial still puffing away on that cigarette. Armageddon will not be televised because it will not happen in a sudden identifiable place or time, it will not be dramatic and it will not star Bruce Willis. It is happening now in a bland, slow, miserable way. If you stand still you can sometimes smell it in the air, sense the paradigm shift, feel it like a depression.  At some point we will become aware that we recognise the plot and the narrative is near the end but there will be no one around to see the credits roll.


Sorry this was going to be a mainly comedy blog so in the interests of humour and more randomness, next week will be a fabulous Euphemism competition with hugely desirable prize.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Draft from the Attic...

In the interests of Randomness
A Draft from the Attic
For my 40th birthday I ran away from home to the middle of not quite nowhere.
Leaving the official writing project anaemic and gasping for oxygen, I scribbled an idea and sample scene for a BBC sitcom writing competition I’d found on the net. Four months later and I was down in London with 7 writers who also crept past the other 4.500 entrants and snuck through short listing. The reward was 5 days at licence payers’ expense discussing comedy writing with BBC comedy glitterati  in-between breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, tea etc etc etc.

Apart from the deliciously uncomfortable guilty deceit of pretending to be interested in T.V. (see blog 6.) it was a really lovely holiday which I obviously deserved.

Fast forward to now and a fried computer. Rifling through my IT ‘attic’ i.e. the files that survived on the hard drive, I came across a bit of a draft of one of the scenes from that project. It’s not in telly script format but in the interests of randomness, which is ever a good cause, here is a bit of that draft from my attic…

circa 2004/5
House Normal

CATH.        John I think you are overestimating the importance of what you define as normal.

JOHN.         Am I? How many of your clients have a mother who takes her dead husband’s ashes on church picnics? How many of your clients have a white brother who thinks he’s Bob Marley and a black sister with an Anne Widdecombe complex?

CATH.        Okaaaay – what about work?

JOHN.         Better. (he smiles in what he hopes is a modest way) Did I tell you about the management training course?

CATH.        Yes – that’s really great (cath yawns)

JOHN.         New opportunities, prospects, horizons, goals…

CATH.        (impatiently) Yes, yes, yes, and Bob? (john is momentarily lost) …the guy you share a work room with?

JOHN.         Yeah, yeah.

CATH.        Well last time you were here I suggested you listen more carefully when Bob was stretching his mind and try to understand him. You had said that his ideas got your brain into “spaghetti”.

JOHN.         Did I?

CATH.        (referring to notes) Yeeees.

JOHN.         Oh right yeah.

CATH.        So?

JOHN.         So I tried.


 (A SWITCH BACK TO JOHN’S OFFICE. JOHN IS TRYING TO CONCENTRATE ON WHAT BOB IS SAYING. BOB IS IN FULL FLOW)

BOB.           …it’s really straight forward. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’ the ring represents the anus and or vagina. The whole purpose of casting the ring into the fires of Mount Doom is to obliterate degrading, base physical sexual desire. The towers equal erections – yeah? You know if people would just accept that all art and by definition therefore life is about the desire to have penetrative sex followed by death the world would be a less confusing place. (once again john can think of nothing to say)


 (CUT BACK TO CATH’S CONSULTING ROOM)

CATH.        Wow – I’d really like to meet Bob.

JOHN.         You see that’s my point.

CATH.        What is?

JOHN.         Bob wouldn’t come here because he thinks he’s normal.

CATH.        We’re going to have to deal with this normality obsession John.

JOHN.         Yes that’s what I -

CATH.        Time up.

JOHN.         Sorry?

CATH.        Time’s up. I’ve got two OCDs and a Bradd Pitt fixation to get through before five. See you in two weeks. (John looks as if he had something significant to add but thinks better of it and leaves)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My One Night Stand with the Ghost of Bill Farrell

Whitenigahs

If a ghost is a manifestation of a restless spirit then I’d bet my last sonnet that Spennymoor Settlement is haunted by the ghost of Bill Farrell.

Toynbee Hall, earliest and most famous establishment of the Settlement Movement was inaugurated in 1883. The idea was simply that forward thinking men and women of talent, altruism and education should,
“…share themselves with their neighbours”
                                                Cannon Samuel Barnett 1883

As parts of the North East fell into the mire of mass unemployment, exacerbated by the 1926 general strike, a very special man found his way to S.W. Durham. That man was to do much more than share himself – he gave over the vast proportion of his energy, creativity, intellect and working life to a small industrial area called Spennymoor. William Farrell established a Settlement in April 1931 that exists today primarily in the guise of a modest amateur theatre but which gave birth to much of the artistic and creative brilliance which is recognised internationally as emanating from that era and area vis-à-vis the Pitman Painters.

With what we in poetry circles refer to as an ‘intimate’ audience, I found myself performing in that history-weighted venue wondering a little nervously what Mr Farrell might have made  of a mixed race woman entertaining with comedy performance poetry. Ever the innovator, broad minded and egalitarian, I can only surmise his welcome would have been warm and encouraging.

Certainly my father, had there been a Settlement to attend and a figure like Bill Farrell to encourage him, might have fared better in a world of rigid strata which was the post war, pre flower power England. Fourth son of a foundry man who suffered debilitating workplace injuries, my father was in many respects the epitome of a Whitenigah. Viewing him posthumously and with adult eyes, I no longer find it strange that a white working class boy, who may never have spoken to a black person, should fall for my mother – a black immigrant from the colonies – different from him in every conceivable way – even down to class and education. My mother was educated at a colonial girls’ school where only the King’s English was spoken. I suspect it may partly have been her otherness that drew him. If you feel rejected or an outsider in what is supposed to be your own community, isn’t it easier to be a genuine outsider in someone else’s? Though he had a couple of very close friends from his boyhood, my father was never happier than in the company of my step-grandfather who was from St Kits. He was completely content and at ease with my grandmother’s large social circle from Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica. He danced to Reggae, drank rum and ate black eye peas ‘n rice with fried chicken as if he too was a descendant of slaves.  At his request, his ashes were scattered over Kaieteur Falls.

Pivotal in his life was something which happened at a tender age. Despite passing the infamous 11+ exam with flying colours, he failed the nastier and less official social test. Having been denied a place at grammar school by his social betters, his natural intellect was forever frustrated. If only my father had met a Bill Farrell – someone who would have looked beyond his background and the state of his shoes.

Although from the intelligentsia, Bill Farrell motivated the Whitenigahs of S.W Durham and I was fortunate enough for one night to have my mug shot on a poster with Arnold Hadwin’s Settlement motif depicting the masks carved by the artist and sculptor Tisa Hess.

In its heyday, Spennymoor Settlement provided an educational and creative outlet for adults, developmental play for children and hope for the future. Looking through my local Adult Education leaflet recently, I noted that even if there had been a course I fancied there were none I could afford; depressingly there was also an obvious grammatical error on the first page.

I find it hard to believe if my father were alive today that he wouldn’t have benefited from a Settlement setup. Much that culture has to offer now seems derivative to the point of dizzying nausea and the most enduring thing the current education system is giving many youngsters is debt.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Mass Market Martyrs & Fast Food Fundamentalists


Surely you must have noticed it? I don’t mean the Joan of Arc type – she would have been sectioned not burnt these days – and who’s to say that wouldn’t have been a worse fate. I’m not talking about those other women either – the ones who should be put out of their misery – or ours. The ones who whine on about having to fetch and carry for a child or partner or other and get to do nothing for themselves (ok I admit I’ve complained that way once or twice or thrice). Frankly I wonder if the relative or neighbour or child wouldn’t welcome some good natured neglect in place of the pursed lips and the dutiful attention. But no, I’m talking about the new martyrs, women and sometimes men who daily and uncomplainingly martyr themselves to a cause so all-pervading you may be shocked that it has gone relatively undocumented.

Travelling home last Saturday night I observed some shoe martyrs. They have always existed but their sheer numbers and uniformity must now constitute a phenomenon and they are just one element of a very broad church.

The shoes required for this ritual suffering are so aesthetically hideous I feel it would be worse than a misnomer to simply label these people fashion victims. Fashion victim suggests some visual gain for the distressed wearer. Stacked, clumped, blocks of wedged, solid, cartoon shoes with heels, make the feet appear like stilted hooves. Also, they cause the wearer to walk like a cross between a giraffe and an elephant on a rope bridge. The shoe martyrs clearly belong to some mysterious sect much weirder and wider than anything imagined by Scientology. This cult, through collective pain, podiatric ugliness, broken ankles, damaged hips and tilted wombs, will eventually decrease the overall suffering of mankind. The shoe martyrs act regardless of age, shape or size. Some, in their zeal, go out in the modern spiritual equivalent of a hair shirt – otherwise known as ‘almost naked’. Presumably so that when their shoes pitch them into the nearest gutter, legs akimbo, designer handbags somersaulting through the air, their humiliation will be complete and the fashion god of consumer mentalness will be sated for ever amen – or until the following night.

Sadly there are many who fail, they fall by the wayside (both metaphorically and in contradiction to what I’ve just said!) and let down their fellow martyrs. These can be seen creeping along the streets of towns and cities at about 9.30 p.m. HOLDING their shoes and walking in their BARE FEET. I’m too ashamed for them to go on.

But the shoe martyrs pale into insignificance against the fast food fundamentalists. These much quieter, less gregarious but even more dedicated characters are – in my view – more suited to martyrdom and the noble silence and sombreness with which we historically picture such individuals. They can be viewed any day of the week at any time through the windows of the burger/chicken/general-eyelid & offal-fried-in-fat outlets where the faithful worship. They subject themselves to the misery of eating shit so quietly, with such glum faces and slack-jawed, dull-eyed passivity, lack of conversation, animation or any other sign of enjoyment that they would make Joan of Arc blush.

Unbelievable as some readers may find it – and I forgive those who read my blog and conclude that I bear false witness – I have seen, double martyrdom. NO, you shriek in ecstatic horror. Could a mere mortal truly assume such a mantle even for the God of Consumerism. But I say unto you now, verily have I seen it with mine own eyes – a person both wearing the hoof shoe and eating salted, fat-saturated, compressed bio-waste in a bread bun.

Before you dismiss this claim, bear in mind that world economic growth is largely based on people buying crap they don’t need and didn’t want until the advertisers convinced  them they’d be less than nobody if they didn’t’ have it. It is, I suppose, just possible that these are not martyrs but mass, brainwashed consumer fodder.
But no – that would be too ridiculous and nightmarish!

Next week
My One Night Stand with the Ghost of Bill Farrell.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Concretized!

‘Concretized’ by New York Literary Agency

Like a friendless lottery winner or Pinocchio or Katie Holmes, I learnt the hard way to – ‘be careful what you wish for.’

After five years bashing the keyboard in a lonely why-am-I-doing-this delirium, I landed contracts for two completed novels with a New York agency. I was able to read,
          “…we love your work. It translates brilliantly to both U.S and U.K audiences   and should have great international appeal.”
                                                Rights Unlimited - Thursday Sept 1st 2005

Having eaten my quota of bitter tasting rejections, I was not willing to believe that this was just the guff they must send out when trying to get an author on the contractual hook. My favourite reject letter was one closely typed, filling two sheets of A4, from a U.K agent, explaining how busy they were!

For weeks I found it hard to utter a sentence which did not bump over the phrase “…my New York agent…” even though New York is a place I only know from Bruce Willis movies.

In a world where bankers think they are the point of commerce and supermarkets crack the whip over food producers; where insurance companies stand between you and your healer – in other words where the middle men have become pre-eminent – why did I think I would be treated even with civility? Bankers and supermarkets may get between you and your life but agencies get between an artist and their soul. The meanest of them can blot out the sun.

Between contact and contract I was treated like a princess. For two months post contract I was treated like the bastard offspring of minor dignitary who needed to be kept sweet. Lists were changed round during Winter 2005/06 and I was put with a slippery, fishy guy. This whiny individual could not pronounce my name without sounding like someone stuck a pin in his bum on the last syllable. From then on I was treated like the leprous peasant that no one would even kick because the effort was too great.

The twelve months in contact and contract with this agency has been the only year since I started regarding myself as a writer where I achieved and created nothing.

All antennae should have been twitching when Mr. Pin-in-arse announced he wanted to “concretize” our relationship. I should have responded,
“You want to solidify our new acquaintance in a toxic restrictive immovable grey substance that would cause any vibrant organic creative living thing to suffocate, sink and die?”
Instead I said,
“Is that a real word?”

Waiting not hours or days but weeks for a simple e-mail response I would then crucify myself doing re-writes that in turn went unacknowledged for further weeks. After a demoralising, debilitating, depressing wasted year I serendipitously encountered Kitty Fitzgerald, U.K author, playwright and publisher who’d had an identical experience. She walked away. After a brief but violent internal conflict I did too.

The immediate result was that I was able to write again, the books listed down the right hand column of my blog plus dozens of poems. Though I am shy about my page poetry and they generally don’t see the light of day, one does appear in the 2012 Winners Anthology of the International Bridport Poetry Prize. My performance poetry I regularly perform up and down the country in varied venues from theatres to comedy clubs and also at the last three Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. And now I have a blog – my weekly word cream cake. The income is patchy but I am no longer CONCRETIZED.
*
And so to the blog flog – available in traditional format or as an e-book,

The Companion Contract
(go to My Books - right hand column of blog - click on the Amazon link)

Sample -
Chpt. 1.

No V.A.T.


‘I sold my accidentally preserved virginity at seventeen to senior equity partner Robert Avery.  The arrangement was made by my disabled neighbour’s divorced daughter’s gay hair stylist’s boss - Richard Le Bon; Ricki to his mates.  Even in Ricki’s indiscriminate world, there were no other young female heterosexuals in the market for such a deal.  His flat fee for arranging the transaction was a mere £700.  If you work out the hours he’d spent developing the idea, co-ordinating meetings and sorting things out, it was a lot less per hour than solicitor’s fees. There was no V.A.T.’

That was the way Jennifer remembered it.



Next week’s blog may be entitled
Martyrs Are Better Dead.
or not.

And hopefully someone who knows about the horrors of IT will have helped me fix the profile box by then. I dunno what I did to it but it broke.