Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Radio Daze

Well, it's been a strange and wonderful week. Yes, I know, it's been more like 11 days. Which is, of course, what makes it such a strange week. As for the wonderful part; that was the five days I spent with four other people writing a radio play. One of the most enjoyable and rewarding weeks of my life so far. In fact, it's been pretty difficult coming back down to earth and getting back into the usual routine. Especially as I hadn't really got into that yet anyway; I don't tend to be very good with routines, as a rule. One day at a time, that's the way I work. Or not, as the case may often be. Still, I probably better backtrack a little and explain this whole radio thing.

We were working with a radio producer/writer/director called Paul Dodgson. He gave us a rough plot, we discussed it, came up with possible events and all went away to write monologues. These were then intercut into a final script. Actors came in, read through once or twice, before recording commenced. The final day was spent editing the recordings, with a genius sound engineer called John something (must find his surname - John Wills, apparently); followed by a playback of our play and the other group's play (there were two groups of five). I was amazed how well it all worked. The actor reading my character wasn't so great - had no comic timing; emphasis on all the wrong words; speech drawn out, rather than snappy - but all in all it was remarkably coherent. And we were all very proud of the end result.

Should anyone have made it through that somewhat dull paragraph, or was skipping ahead (in which case, "Hi, again") in the hope of avoiding its transparent blandness, you may want to know the basic plot we were given: a block of flats, mix of council and private tenants; no-one talks to eachother; then DJs move in on the top floor playing loud music constantly; everyone groups together to confront them; they reach the room, and the DJs have gone. That was the skeleton we had to flesh out. My silly Christmas-y pun for the name of the building, "Silent Heights", became the title (for our group's play, anyway) - the thinking being that it would lend an urgency to the piece if Christmas was imminent and everyone was desperate to stop the noise by Christmas Day.

The five characters we came up with were: an old widowed guy called Bernie whose obsession was a patch of garden outside the flats; Janice, a woman who had had a few bad relationships, was living with someone new and trying but struggling to get into New-Age-y things; Betsy, an old, slightly deaf lady with a yappy dog; Gordon, a misanthropic young professional who was happier not getting involved with the other residents and hated Christmas (my character - yes, you're right, not too much of a stretch for me. Well, apart from the young and professional parts... and, ok, I only hate the build up to Christmas... and the wind-down, come to think of it... well, anyway I like the bits involving food, alcohol and presents); and Camilla, a dreamy eighteen year old who grows to like the music as it provides a distraction from her family life (her family had been well off, but had had to move to the flats when the father's business failed).

Anyway, everyone came up with excellent monologues that fitted together really well. Or at least they did fit after some stressful hours, during which group members with far more logical and organised brains than me, frankly, did most of the work. Big thanks to them. Both plays should be available on the Bloc site sometime, but I thought I'd just post my original monologue here for the time being. Not all of the lines made it into the end script, of course, but it kind of stands up ok on it's own. It's down there, somewhere¬ (I like that punctuation mark - no idea what it really means; but anyway, to me, at least, it kind of suggests "down there").

So, what was so wonderful about writing and recording a radio play? Well, aside from the games involving Maltesers - and the people buying, throwing, catching eating them - the main thing was that it was doing writing with some kind of tangible result (is a sound file really tangible? Probably not, but who cares), writing that turned into something other than a Word document littering up my hard drive. Something that was pretty decent, as it goes. That was a real buzz. As was my writing getting compliments and laughs from an actor (even if he did screw up the part) and a proper radio guy and my fellow students. I could get accustomed to that kind of thing. Or I could if I wrote better and more often. Which I suppose is an incentive. Anyway, that monologue thingy. Well, not so much a monologue, just a bunch of lines really, but here they are¬ (see - great punctuation mark (Dammit, now it looks all lost and irrelevant, so I'll have to put in another after these brackets... actually, what am I complaining about, they're woefully underused; the more of the things the better - maybe they'll catch on))¬

The estate agent said it was the up-and-coming suburb. Best get in while it's still cheap. I'm not stupid, though. So I asked some of my employees for a second opinion. Oh sure, Gordon, it can only improve, they said. So that was how I came to live here. In Silent Heights. On the third floor. It seemed like a good investment.

If I look out of my window I can sort of see the local park. Or at least the bit where a bunch of CCTV dodgers gather to smoke crack. The rest of it's obscured by another block of flats. A couple of naturists own the one opposite mine. Naturists who never draw the curtains. I don't know, perhaps we should all be as God intended, but if those two are anything to go by, I suspect he intended for us all to wear clothes. XXXL clothes. And maybe bags over our heads as well.

At ground level, there's a little scrap of land with flowers. I suppose it's nice that someone's tried to brighten up the place, but planting a tiny garden like that around here, I don't know, it's like trying to put a little strappy dress on a six-foot, fat bloke.

It's a pretty quiet place to be, though, once you've become oblivious to all the sirens, But there was that one time, last Christmas. It wasn't so quiet then.

It started on the 19th of December.



I was watching the History Channel, seeing what management tips could be gleaned from a documentary on Hitler. I know he was evil and all that, but you have to admire his leadership skills. He'd probably have made an excellent motivational guru if he'd been born a few decades later.

I just assumed it was the girl upstairs. Seventeen, eighteen, parents on holiday. Thought about complaining. But… it would have meant effort. And talking to people. I try to avoid those things outside of work hours. Besides, it was probably just going to be the one night.

It wasn't just the one night. And it wasn't just the music. Every time it started so did the mutt downstairs. One of those horrible yappy things. Typical old lady dog. Sort of a cross between a broom with no handle and a malignant Ewok. Even now, I sometimes contemplate kidnapping it and taking it to the vets to be "done" again, except this time having the vocal cords snipped. And when the mutt started, so did the old lady, banging her stick on the ceiling. I could have quite cheerfully murdered the pair of them.

You know, the crazy old lady downstairs accused me of making all the noise. I mean, I'm a respectable young professional, not some pilled-up DJ. We just happened to meet on the stairs. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if she'd been waiting. "George, that's the nasty man who's been upsetting you," she said waving her stick at me. Next thing I knew the overgrown rat was sharpening its teeth on my ankle. Naturally, I threatened to sue. I may also have called her a deranged old bat. She called me an animal hater and threatened to report me to the RSPCA. Well, I was dangling the mutt over the stairwell and threatening to let go, so that was probably fair enough. I had to relent, though, when she started clutching her chest. Just in case she wasn't faking.

The next night more banging on the ceiling. More yelping. It was time to sort this nonsense out. That or go as insane as the old bat downstairs. She took a little persuading that I wasn't coming for George. But eventually agreed to accompany me to the fourth floor. After unsuccessfully playing the heart attack card again. But the girl up there wasn't to blame either. Apparently some lentil-muncher from the first floor, had already accused her days ago. No, what we had was DJs on the top floor. I left them a note threatening to call the environmental health people and went to bed.

Kill the DJ. Or was it Hang the DJ? Anyway, some songwriter had the right idea. Not that I'm advocating murder, you understand. Just killing DJs. Killing DJs doesn't count. No-one would miss them. Not now we have the iPod Shuffle. Sadly, Corporal Coffin Dodger wasn't advocating murder either, just a good talking to. He'd already recruited crazy Betsy and the human mung bean, so I thought I may as well join them. I mean, I don't do Christmas, so it wasn't like I was stuffing the brussel sprouts, or anything.

I was pretty relieved when it was empty. At last, no more mixing with those loonies. Mind you, that young girl seems very well spoken. Maybe this area really is on the up.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Short people got no reason to carry umbrellas

This is the essay I was going on about in the last post. I rather like it, and other people liked it, so I figured I may as well post it.

Might be best if I mentioned this now: yes, I am short; and no, I never use an umbrella.

Every day our newspapers are practically exploding with stories about terrorist plots, global warming, random violence and a whole array of other terrifying hazards to our personal and collective wellbeing. But one particular safety threat always seems to get overlooked: short people with umbrellas. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against umbrellas, per se, or even short people. In fact, umbrellas are an excellent invention, the way they expand and collapse at the push of a button. Very ingenious. But it's the arms, or spokes, that allow them to do so that represent the problem; specifically the pointy bits on the ends. In the hands of a short person, these could have somebody's eye out.
But does that stop short people from wielding umbrellas? Not a bit of it. We've all seen them, those of us lucky enough to still have our sight, strolling through the streets on a rainy day, brazen as you like, not a care for anyone, umbrellas proudly and perilously aloft. But for all our sakes this recklessness needs to stop. That is why I say to you now, short people should stop using umbrellas.

I'm sure, right at this moment, there will be short people all across the land leaping up and down and screaming in indignation. And not just in an attempt to attract the attention of someone behind a shop counter. No, in protest at the patent unfairness of my proposal. Well, good. They're more prone to heart attacks, so they could probably do with the exercise. But seriously, why should the short be condemned to a life of damp misery? After all, it's not their fault they're short. Well, if they smiled more, they'd just be damp. But even their dampness could be eliminated. On those rare occasions when it's both raining and there's actually something worth leaving the house for, there's nothing to stop a short person simply wearing waterproofs, is there?

Well, answering on behalf of both myself and my fellow hobbits and oompa-loompas: yes and no. Frankly, being short is indignity enough, without being forced to dress in shiny bits of plastic. Not only does wearing waterproofs invariably make a person look ridiculous, but after just a few minutes you also start to feel like the contents of some kind of boil-in-the-bag meal for giants. But that's still no reason to risk the eyesight of those an inch or two taller than yourself by carrying an umbrella, is it? If you're short, either get over your vanity - you could use a step-stool if your legs aren't long enough - or, like me, get wet once in a while. I can assure you, it doesn't hurt. Unlike being poked in the eye with an umbrella spoke. Or walking into things because your depth perception isn't what it used to be.

I can still hear many voices being raised in protest, though. "Even if the above arguments are accepted, this umbrella ban is discrimination," they squeak, "and as such has no place in modern Britain." Assuming that these voices are those of short people, rather than the beginnings of a mental health problem, I would like to respond to their concerns. Yes, I agree entirely, this is discrimination. But it has never been wrong to discriminate between being safe and being sorry. Indeed, no society should fail to make such discriminations. It will ever be preferable that some get wet, than others get blinded.

The voices raise still graver concerns, though - what about the health risks short people will face as a result of frequent soakings? Is there not a very real danger that they will shrink? Perhaps even to a size where they might be trampled to death by a crowd of carelessly gangling tall people? Plainly this is absurd - short people, you see, don't actually get as wet as normal people. There are three reasons for this. First, smaller targets are notoriously difficult to hit; even for raindrops. Second, if you look at a short person, it is quite obvious that there is, in fact, less of him or her to get wet. And third, and most crucially, there is the Splashback Effect. In order to hit a short person a raindrop has to fall somewhat further. By the time it eventually hits its target, it will therefore have gathered additional momentum, thus increasing both the force of its impact and the resultant ricochet, or splashback, away from said short person. Hence, a lesser proportion of every raindrop actually remains on a short person than on a tall person. Given, then, that tall people have less natural water resistance, yet do not shrink, it is therefore clearly absurd to assume that a short person would.

Finally, some people will object that height is relative; any line drawn between short and tall will be no better than arbitrary; and those above that line will still be in danger from each other. To be frank, I don't care. I have proposed that short people stop using umbrellas, not for the safety of tall people, but for our own sakes. It will ensure that we don't have each other's eyes out, and if anyone unwise enough to be taller than, say, five foot ten gets an umbrella spoke in the eye, then at least they won't be sat in front of a short person at the cinema. We might be wet, but at least we'll be able to see the goddamn film for once.

As I have said already, unless we don't mind looking more ridiculous than we already do, we short people will get wet, but my plan is in our interests. It will not mean that we are being negatively discriminated against, we will not have anyone's diminished eyesight on our consciences, we will not become even smaller, and we may even get to enjoy more films. Clearly, then, it is the way to go: short people should stop using umbrellas.

Not so fed up

Apparently, I could have been less fed up last Wednesday - the boring cannibalism is a good thing essay that I wrote with the sole intention of getting an 'A', rather than laughs, got an 'A'. Excellent. Think I prefer getting laughs, though. Still, the whole general dissatisfaction thing prompted me to write the two best pieces I've done since starting the course, so can't complain.

One of them was yet another essay for Derrek's sessions. But it was a case of choose your own argument this time. Don't know what grade it'll get, but it got laughs. Plenty of them. And all in the right places. Even a smattering of applause at the end. Kind of a surprise. And I managed to not shake for most of the reading out. Almost unheard of for me when it comes to public speaking. All in all, I was unqualifiedly happy. Which was somewhat novel too.

Actually, I should say, given that this blog claims to be about my writerly progress, that the essay reading out sessions have been unexpectedly, and hugely helpful. Not so much from the point of view of learning about the essay form and rhetoric, although partly that, but just to know that people actually get my jokes has been unbelievable. I can almost feel my confidence growing (assuming it's not a hernia from all the bloody hills in Falmouth). And people's compliments and encouraging comments, they've been just great too.

One slight problem, I'm not at all used to getting compliments. I find myself unable to know how to respond. Yes, I know, that describes me in most social situations, but I particularly don't know what the proper etiquette is when it comes to accepting compliments. I just find myself sitting there thinking:

Oh God, am I somehow coming across as arrogant? I bet I am - I'm being too ready to accept them, or not thankful enough, or too dismissive, or... Oh God, I should say something complimentary about what they wrote, as well, shouldn't I? But what was it? I was too busy arguing with my nerves when they were reading. Bugger, bugger, bugger... What? Oh dammit, what did they just say, I wasn't listening, erm... nod politely. Probably am coming across as arogant now, argh!!! Or just weird. Shut up, brain. Stop it. Now. Look, I won't tell you again. Oh, for crying out loud, how do you tell an inner monologue to shut up without actually continuing it? Or starting another? Do other people think like this? God, poor them... Um, best nod again, just in case...
And so it goes.

Well, the point of that was, erm... that if anyone I know is reading this, yes, I do appreciate the compliments and encouragement, and I'm not in the least complaining about them, but if I come across as weird, embarrassed and distracted, or arrogant, I'm just thoroughly confused. And socially inept. Or...

Jeez, I really must stop thinking so much.

[Sighs] I'd tell myself off for being such a neurotic, but the resultant argument might last all night.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

That annoying piece I have to write about my bedroom when I was eight years old

Yep, I'm going to whinge about that again. Not just for the sake of it, though. Part of the point of the piece is that I do some research. And keep some kind of record of what that research consisted of. Which, apparently, should be put on my blog. Just in case it's not dull enough already.

Anyway, it would have been between 20/9/86 and 19/9/87 that I was eight years old. So, what was going on in the world? In 1986, lots of interesting things, according to wikipedia. I even remember some of them. Such as the Chernobyl Disaster and the Challenger Shuttle Disaster. Both of which happened before my birthday, though. So not in the least bit helpful to the piece. Ditto virtually all of the other interesting stuff that I would have had any consciousness of. Still, fortunately for me, there were also memorable disasters in 1987: the Zeebrugge Disaster, the Hungerford Massacre, and the re-election of Maggie Thatcher. Great. I might have something to write about after all. One problem, though; just a small one; hardly worth mentioning, really, but... They didn't happen in my bedroom! (Thankfully. It would have been a bugger to tidy up after).

Nor did anything else remotely worth writing about. In fact, I don't think I even spent much time in there, as a rule. If I was in there I was either ill, or sleeping, or fetching some toy or other to take downstairs, i.e. away from my bedroom. And I can't honestly say that I went to bed and lay there contemplating the fate of Terry Waite or wondering about the environmental and political implications of nuclear testing in the Nevada Desert, either. So God knows why I've just spent ages researching memorable world and national events. Oh yes, it was because that was what they suggested I do. Maybe if I'd had a telly in my room, like richer kids did, or a developed social consciousness, it might have been relevant. But I didn't. On both counts. I was eight. So, how am I supposed to shoehorn any of that into a NON-FICTION piece about my bedroom when I was eight years old?!

So, onto researching what my room might have looked like. Well, I'm not in touch with any of my friends from back then, so that's a non-starter. My parents were only able to tell me slightly more than I mentioned in that other blogpost. I have no siblings. My parents even have a different cat now; not that he's talking. And even if Stafford wasn't too far away for a quick look around, I moved bedrooms when I was in my teens, at which point the old one was redecorated and turned into a guest room. And no, I can't afford hypnosis.

OK, then - what would I have been able to see and hear from my room? Well, not much. It was a very quiet street. My bedroom was at the front of the house, so it was always possible to see the house opposite. A bungalow. With a big front garden. Some old bloke who never did anything more interesting than mowing his front lawn lived there. Of course, I could see other houses too, if I got really close to the glass. But it wouldn't have been worth the effort. Like I said, it was a quiet street; apart from the lawnmowers. So what about noises from inside the house? Well, my bedroom did share a wall with my parents'. But they almost never argued. And the walls were thick enough that I wouldn't have heard them if they had been arguing; or if they'd been doing anything else, for that matter. There weren't even any strange vaguely spooky (to a child) knockings or rattlings from the central heating to scare me at night. In fact, the only sounds at night would have been someone going downstairs, or flushing the toilet. Or the radio in the belly of the stuffed toy cat I persuaded my parents to get me from Tandy and listened to quietly under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep; if I wasn't reading instead. It would take me a couple of hours to get to sleep even then.

Perhaps, then, I should do some research on insomnia. Well, no - because it wasn't insomnia; it was just that I liked listening to the radio, and reading books [tries to remember what books; fails]. Well, maybe I could write something evocative about the magic and mystery of being huddled under the covers listening to a football commentary for the first time, my ear glued to the belly of a toy cat, hoping the radio was low enough that I wouldn't be discovered before the end, trying to imagine what was going on, what the teams' kits looked like, what astroturf was, why that made the ball bounce higher, why only Luton Town seemed to have it, what a winger was and why John Barnes was apparently such a good one. But I struggle to remember, at least in enough detail to drag it out to the 500-1000 words requested. And I'm not sure research would get me much closer to even the 500 words.

Actually, having read this back, I think I might just cannibalise this blogpost for the piece. Seems feasible. Stick in some mention of toys (Transformers, Star Wars, He-Man, Matchbox cars, Lego; I seem to remember), my former appendix, a touch more footie research, anything else my parents might have since remembered, and I should have at least 600 words.

Hmm. That wasn't so difficult after all (he says before the inevitable long night of actually trying to do the blasted thing).

Friday, November 03, 2006

I had a ukulele. It broke.

I wrote something I didn't hate yesterday, so I'm in a better mood now. Can't really think of anything interesting to write here just now, though. So I'm going to see if I can work out how to put a YouTube video on this thing. With any luck it should be just down there¬

No, it doesn't have anything to do with writing. It's just damn good.

UPDATE: See if you can spot the entirely coincidental link with my other blogs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fed up

In case the title didn't tip you off - I'm fed up. I was wondering for a moment about adding an exclamation mark at the end there, but it's more of a slouching, half-hearted, sighing, shrugging, can't-be-bothered-with-anything kind of "fed up", so a full-stop will suffice. Actually it won't. I'd prefer something less definite. Something that just trailed off. So, let's try again:

I'm fed up...

There, that worked better. Far more reflective of the particular kind of "fed-up-ness" that's currently making me, erm... fed up. Problem is, it suggests that something has been left unsaid. Which is true, I suppose. I haven't yet said "Meh..." or "Blah..." or "Bleurgh...", all of which would be relevant here. Or explained why I'm fed up. Which would perhaps be even more relevant. So here goes with the why:

I just am.

Well, that's part of it anyway. Another part is this stupid cold I've got, which has now decided that it's a cough. [Sighs] Just typical of modern life - germs with identity crises... mutter, mumble, complain, I remember when germs were germs, goddamit [thumps fist on table], etc. (repeat until am actually old and cantankerous enough to say stuff like that). Then there's the erratic sleeping thing.

And it's the course.

I'm learning stuff and it's worthwhile, but... Well, I just seem to be writing crap half the time. The stuff I'm writing just isn't me. No, those first three essays were me and I enjoyed writing them - the prenups one, the higher education should only be for the rich one, and the one that turned into a rant about Bush (the president, not the Nirvana imitators) - but the "Cannibalism is a good thing" essay... that I didn't enjoy at all. Mainly because I was trying to stick rigidly to Derrek's essay structure (nearly wrote stricture - might have been more accurate), rather than express myself or write jokes. I don't know, I thought I succeeded; unfortunately, he just seemed sceptical and thoroughly unimpressed. Not that he actually said so. Then there's the "creative" stuff I've been doing for Bill's lectures - none of it terrible, I suppose (apart from the one I get back tomorrow - cheers for that, you stupid brain fogging cold), but none of it anything I'm especially proud of either. When it comes to those pieces, I just seem to have... I don't know, lost my "voice". I write to entertain myself, to be surprised, to see where it takes me. Normally. But the playfulness seems to have disappeared. And I'm having my doubts about this blogpost too.

Oh, and now, for another module, I have to write some piece about "my bedroom when I was 8 years old" - I can think of nothing less inspiring. Well, I can, but I'm not going to: I'm fed up enough as it is. Not only am I thoroughly uninspired, I also have very little recollection of my bedroom back then. Or of being 8 years old. So I talked to my parents. It seems I had a macrame owl on one of the walls. And the walls were sort of greeny turquoise. Or they might have been light blue. So that's alright then. Still, that was the year I had my appendix removed, so at least I can write about being doubled up in agony whilst waiting hours and hours for a doctor to turn up, before being rushed to hospital, where I was pricked with loads of needles until they finally found a vein. In the end of my thumb.

Doctor type person (the next day): "Oh, um, we took it out anyway, but actually you just had mesenteric addenitis. A short course of antibiotics would have done the trick."
Me: "Oh. Thanks."

So that should be fun.

Ok, rant over.