ME, MYSELF, I
Updated: Jan 17
MEETING THE FOLKS #1 - A PRETTY LITTLE PICTURE
DOROTHY, IN HER EARLY 50s, IS CREATING A VIDEO DIARY. SHE'S FAIRLY ATTRACTIVE AND CARRIES AN ANXIOUS EXPRESSION.
Right, off we go. Sunday, April 7th. (PAUSE. DEEP BREATH) I don't know. Really… I don't know. I mean, Mikey, he's my son an' all and of course I want the best for him but these-these girls, women....I….I don't even know what to call them.
It's not like he's a bad looking boy. He may be a bit rough around the edges but, you know, it's that rugged kind of look that some of these women like.....isn't it? I mean, look at that Daniel Craig, he's not exactly one of your drop dead gorgeous hunks is he? And he's James Bond for Chrissakes!
(SIGHS). Alright, let's start with Sue....if we must. Mikey, he's a car salesman. He's good too, works at a dealership near the city centre. He's only 23 but he's picked up enough knowledge for a man twice his age. This Sue was a customer. He sold her an audi of some sort and she was well pleased. He’s got a real gift of the gab he has, my boy, so he asked her out on a date and….and before you know it, they’ve been seeing each other for a couple of months.
I asked him what she was like. For a mouthy so-and-so, he can also be a bit…. sullen sometimes if you know what I mean. So, when I said to him “what’s she like?” he squirmed a bit then said she was “very modern.” When I asked him to explain, he said something like “well, y’know, she’s not backwards in coming forwards but she’s a good girl. Great legs.” Huh. Like a decent set of pins has always defined your personality. Still, I thought, don’t be judgmental before you’ve even met the poor girl. I really don’t want to be seen as some dreadful matriarch, the disapproving dragon or even, if it ever comes to it, some dreadful overbearing mother-in-law.
So, the big day arrives and he wants to bring her around to show her off. He’d already been round to meet her mum and dad. I asked him how it went and he hinted that it hadn’t gone too well. “Why,” I questioned him, “didn’t they take to you?”
“Oh” he said, “they liked me well enough.” I mean, who wouldn’t? Everyone likes Mikey. Then he sort of left it hanging in the air. What was I supposed to make of that? Tom, as usual, just shrugged and smiled. Never wants to get involved with the in’s and out’s. Honestly, he’s more like a sitting tenant than a husband sometimes.
So, they pull up in her Audi. She likes to be behind the driving wheel, I thought. Mikey’s there, big grin on his face. He wore a snazzy waistcoat and smart jeans. Always looking good.
And there was Sue. I wasn’t sure if the girl had mixed us up with some other event. She looked like she was off for a girlie night out rather than Sunday lunch with the fella and a couple of old folks. Dyed hair, streaked blond with sort of dark pink at the ends. Pencil thin eyebrows and so much slap it’d take you half a day to chisel it all off. And those earrings…..silver hoops so big you could put your hand through them. Unbuttoned scarlet blouse revealing a little too much bosom, black leather skirt and heels.
She swanned in like she was royalty.
We made the introductions and, I dunno how she did it but it was like she was scrutinizing us not the other way round. We had that really awkward physical introduction only the English suffer from. None of us knew whether to shake hands, hug or kiss on the cheek – so we did a clumsy mixture of all three. I was embarrassed but she just did a sort of half-laugh as if to say “well, that was amusing, wasn’t it? Shall we move on?”
We showed her into the lounge and it was all “How sweet”, the house was very “quaint” and our original painting of a rural Victorian scene she called “a pretty little picture.” It was like showing a new doll’s house to a child.
The dinner I’d slaved over – and was always appreciated by Tom and Mikey was “very tasty” but not as quite as good as Granny Bea who was the best cook ever.
Mikey, as she put it, was a lovely man but he should really apply himself. My best summer dress made her “nostalgic” for when she was a little girl. Everything was “very nice”, just not quite nice enough for the mistress of the house, Lady Sue.
Dear God, she even hinted at their sex life being not quite as adventurous as her last boyfriend which, trust me, is something a parent really doesn’t want to hear. Especially at the dinner table. Or any table, come to that. Even Mikey who laughs everything off, seemed to falter. He carried on grinning but….his eyes seemed to lose their shine.
Well, finally, we saw off her Ladyship. It was just as embarrassing as before. You’re supposed to be a bit more affectionate at this stage of the proceedings. I went to hug her but it was a bit half-hearted and, frankly, it felt like hugging an iceberg.
And that was the last we saw of her. She left Mikey a week later for a faster stallion. He really didn’t seem too bothered by it. Put it down to experience. Bad experience.
I asked him again about the meeting with her parents, y’know and why it didn’t go so well if they seemed to like him. “Oh,” he said…. “they can’t stand her.”
MY LITTLE SWEET’EART
HEAD TABLE AT A WEDDING RECEPTION. A MAN IN HIS FIFTIES GETS UP, STAGGERS SLIGHTLY, STEADIES HIMSELF. HE’S A BIT FLUSHED AND HIS TIE IS ASKEW. HE TAPS A GLASS FOR ATTENTION.
Ladies and Gennelmen, thank you all for being 'ere today for the....conjoinment of my bootiful daughter Stacey and her new husband Kevin (HE’S SUDDENLY TUGGED BY SOMEONE AND HE LEANS DOWN).....Kelvin.
Now then, let's be honest…..Kelvin may not be the most perfect man in the world but compared to some o' the chinless wonders and dodgy lookin' desperado's she's dragged into my house, he's Brad bleedin' Pitt. The kid's alright. The actor Spencer Tracey once said to one of his students "Remember your lines and try not to bump into the furniture." Honestly, you can't ask more of anyone than that.
Apparently, they both wanted to do everythin’ traditional, like, so when they decided to hitch up he comes up to me, shakin' like a leaf, and says "M-m-mister Carpenter, sir, I've come to ask you for your daughter's hand." So I said to him "Well, son, you can have her hand, but the rest of her belongs to us." That's when I realised the poor kid needed to work on his sense of humour.
So, in line with the whole "traditional" thing, Stace told me and her mum it was her dream to get married in church, proper like. (PAUSE) I gotta say, this came as a bit of a surprise to me. For a start, the last time she was in church she was being baptised and probably can't remember the experience. And when she answered the door to a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses, she saw 'em off with somethin' like "Get a proper job you fucking low-life God botherers!" I'm just glad my little sweet’eart didn't say the same thing to the vicar marrying her.
Y'know, it’s gotta be one of the proudest moments in a man's life when he walks his daughter up the aisle. When I was asked to give Stacey away, I was pleased as punch. (PAUSE) Then I got the final bill for this shindig. D'you know how much it cost to "give away" my Stacey to Kevin (HE’S NUDGED AGAIN).....Kelvin? D'know how much? Thirty-one thousand, one hundred and eleven quid! Yeah, that's right, thirty-one grand. I mean, I don’t mean to sound a bit tight but was it really bloody necessary to buy everybody personalized napkins or hand-made chocolates or cards embossed with friggin’ gold? And the photographer (POINTS), yeah, yeah, you! Two and half thousand quid. You can get David Bailey for that. And don’t even get me started on the wedding dress. (GLANCES AT HIS DAUGHTER) Maybe next time you should marry a bloke who ain’t an orphan, we can split the cost. Oh, oh and that’s another thing…..why are there so many of you ‘ere? Who are you people? When did we get so popular we can ask three ‘undred guests to a wedding? I mean, I can see cousin Mike and his mob, Stacey’s crew lookin’ like they’ve had a rough night down a back street in Paris, me ol’ mucker Josh who threw up in the Gents, and Aunty Beryl who seems to have a colourful bird growing out of her hat. Seems to me, everyone’s got the call…..y’know like Uncle Ronnie’s second-cousin’s neighbour’s cat...
(SHAKES HIS HEAD. SIGHS) Ah, what the hell, it’s only money innit? And this is a day o’ celebration after all. So…alleged ladies and not so gentle men, chavs and chavettes, fellow drunkards, jokers and jesters and totally, totally uninvited guests, (RAISES HIS GLASS) I give you Stacey and Kevin…KELVIN!
SOMEBODY ELSE’S WAR
AN OLD MAN IS SPEAKING TO CAMERA. HE IS SMARTLY TURNED OUT IN DARK SUIT, REGIMENTAL TIE AND A ROW OF SERVICE MEDALS.
I wasn't there for D-Day. Or the hard fight the Jerries made of it in Normandy. Just as well. The regiment took fifty-five percent casualties in just eight weeks. The kind of thing that either makes you or breaks you....whatever that means.
I had my 19th birthday on Christmas Eve. Got my call-up papers soon after and started training. I played football every weekend for the local club, just small time, y’know. And I was a brickie by trade so I was bloody fit in those days. The training didn’t bother me too much. It was harder on some of those office boys, huffing and puffing through it all. The sergeants were shockers; I’ve never heard swearing like it till I joined the army. But they knew what they were doing. One of ‘em only had one arm. Lost it at Anzio the year before. They put him to work on us. Some of the lads complained but they were there to teach us how to fight a war not come first prize in a dance class. I heard a few complain the war would be over before we got there but the Jerries still had some fight left in ‘em. You don’t mess about with Hitler’s mob, the bastards knew how to give you a good scrap.
Training finished, we got shipped over in March. By this time, our division had crossed the Rhine, the yanks were doing alright further south and the Russki’s were bashing the hell out of them in east Germany. Looked like the war was running out of Germans by then. Some of the new lot were eager to get stuck in. Me? I didn’t know what I wanted. Part of me wanted to ‘do my bit’ and part of me wanted to get the hell out of there.
We finally joined the battalion and settled in. We weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. They looked down on us as “sprogs”, young recruits and no use to anyone. One of my mates, a chirpy little bloke called Charlie Yates told a tough looking corporal he wished he’d been there in Normandy. Big mistake. The corp told him about Spandau’s which can rip a man in two, tiger tanks rolling over our wounded blokes and turning them into mush, SS shooting prisoners like they were rabid dogs, and the stink of dead men and dead cows and dead horses, the stink so bad you could smell it on your uniform days after. (SMILES). Charlie shut up after that.
We were told there was some Jerry troops in a large village nearby and we were to go and push ‘em out. A couple of Shermans were going to come at them from the flank. “Engage the enemy” as the officers put it. There was some woods nearby and we made our way through the trees so they wouldn’t see us approach. We could see the village through the wood. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. A couple of Spandau’s opened up and German Mausers, bullets everywhere. I dived behind a tree but the bloke next to me was too late and caught a bullet in the throat. There was a small artillery piece firing HE into us, wood splinters flying all over the place. Our lot returned fire and the Bren opened up and they kept their heads down for a bit but then they got so bloody close they started lobbing their stick grenades. The sound was….well, it was like nothing I’d ever heard. There was rifle fire, machine guns, shells, grenades, men screaming, men shouting. Despite all that training, I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared I nearly wet myself. I just lay there pointing my Lee Enfield. One of the old lags shouted at me: “Fire your bloody rifle you useless piece of shit!”
The Jerries had started to outflank us and one of ‘em got so close he threw a grenade at the Bren crew and….well, that was that. The Lieutenant who was quite new to the unit started to get a bit panicky then. We had no machine gun, the Shermans hadn’t turned up and as for the Jerries, nobody’d told them they were supposed to be defeated. Just as it looked like they were about to overrun us, he called a retreat and a few of the veterans gave covering fire and we ran for our lives. It was chaos. Bloody chaos.
I ran through the trees and one minute there were blokes running with me and the next….nothing. I could hear gun shots through the woods but I couldn’t see a soul. I stopped, sweating and exhausted and scared and tried to come to my senses. I was in a clearing, a small grassy meadow. I relaxed for a moment, tried to put the madness behind me.
Then, suddenly, he walked into the clearing. He was a German soldier. Well, when I say ‘soldier’ he looked about fifteen, same age as my kid brother. He was skinny and pale, the uniform hung on him like a blanket, the coal shuttle helmet was too big for his head. He didn’t look old enough to shave.
He was just as shocked as I was. It was pathetic. It was like we’d both accidentally walked into somebody else’s war. Just like the firefight, I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. The boy looked at me for a moment, then he lowered his rifle, he sort of smiled and said “Bitte”.
And then it happened. It just happened and I wish it hadn’t but it did and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was so nervous, so bloody nervous, I pulled the trigger on my rifle. The shot rang out like a….like a crack of thunder and he looked at me, he had this surprised look on his face like he was saying “What did you do that for?” and he just crumpled and fell backwards onto the grass. I stood there like an idiot. It was like my rifle had fired all by itself.
There was still no-one else around. He’d been like me, maybe lost from his unit. I could see he was still alive. I ran over to him. He was on his back, clutching his abdomen, this dark patch of blood on his field grey tunic. His breathing was short like he couldn’t get enough air in his lungs. He glanced at me, hurt and scared. “Hilfen mir!” he said. I knelt down besides him. I removed the heavy helmet. His hair was dark which surprised me ‘cos I actually thought all Germans were blond. I took off my tunic, rolled it up and laid it underneath his head.
I was all mixed up. I was still shaking from the clash earlier. I was confused because I was lost and on my own. And even though I’d been trained to kill Germans, now I’d finally shot one, I was just stricken with guilt. I couldn’t just leave him there so…..so I stayed. It seemed like the right thing to do but if some German soldiers came along they might just shoot me on the spot. He started spluttering when I unbuttoned his tunic to see the damage. It wasn’t good. It really wasn’t good. I was the worst shot in my unit. The sergeant major said I couldn’t hit a barn door at ten paces…..but I’d managed to shoot him dead centre in the middle of his body. His right hand was bloody from clutching the wound. When he saw it he started to cry. “ He looked at me and said “Ich werde sterben”. I found out later it means, “I’m going to die”. But I think I knew that.
I took out the large field dressing from my medical kit and placed it over the wound. God knows why. It just seemed right at the time. He cried out with the pain of it. I nearly cried with him I felt so bad. I gave him a sip of water which he drank. He said “Danke Schön” then “Thank you”. I‘ll always remember that. “Thank you.” Maybe it was the only English he knew.
Before the war, the only other time I saw someone die was Granny Beth when she quietly passed away in her bed. (PAUSE) This weren’t the same. It weren’t the same at all.
He reached out with his left hand, the one that wasn’t covered in blood. I hesitated at first then I took it. There wasn’t much strength in it. He just said “Kamerad”. I didn’t know what to say. I’d just shot a teenage boy who was going to die and he was calling me his comrade. I suppose he just wanted to hold on to someone, anyone really.
He was starting to convulse and cough violently. Through it all, he managed to point to his tunic and say “Photo”. I reached and pulled out a leather wallet. Inside was a photo of a woman with black hair, aged around forty. He clutched it, held it to his chest and said over and over “Mutti, mutti, mutti……”
And then he just…..he just went. One minute he was there, the next…the next he was… gone. (WELLS UP. LONG PAUSE AS HE GATHERS HIMSELF)
I can’t remember what was going through my mind. That whole day I seemed to have been lost and confused. I did feel terribly empty though. I took back my tunic and laid his head on the ground. Then I picked up my rifle and started to leave. I don’t know why I did this at the time, I should have left it with him but….I took it. I took the photo of his mother from his hand and I put it in my wallet. (PAUSE) I’ve had it ever since. It started to fall apart after a few years so I had a copy done. (HE PULLS OUT A BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO). I don’t know the name of that lad. Or where he lived or anything. It’s just to remind me. To remind me that…well, you know. And in seventy-five years, I’ve never raised my hand against another human being. And that’s all I’ve got to say.
MEETING THE FOLKS #2 - APOCALYPSE NOW
DEBORAH IS ADDRESSING THE VIDEO CAMERA. SHE SEEMS LESS COMPOSED THAN BEFORE.
Right. Wednesday July 3rd. Like I mentioned in the last entry, we put the fragrant Sue down to one of life's little mishaps and all part of the great learning curve. (LICKS HER FINGER AND MARKS IT ON AN IMAGINARY BOARD). One down.
So....a little way down the line and Mikey says he's been seeing this beautiful girl for a few weeks.
Why didn't you mention it sooner I asked?
Well, k'know.....he mumbled.
So, where's she from then? I put it to him.
Oh, y'know, back east....and he shrugs.
What, like Epping or Chelmsford? I said.
"Er, no - Vietnam" he says and looks a bit sheepish.
So, there you have it. My boy dating a Vietnamese woman. Now don’t get me wrong, I've nothing against foreigners coming to this country, really I haven't, I'm just not sure if all this cross culture mixing makes people very compatible. You know, what with language and customs and lifestyles and everything. It's all.....not really in my horizon, like something I should be able to see but can't. I don't want to start saying things like "I'm not a racist but-" because those sort of people always follow up by actually saying something racist. Anyway, I find it all terribly confusing.
We fixed a Sunday for the two of them to come round. Tom wasn't much help with all this. He really wasn't. From the moment I first told him, he just seemed to find the whole thing a bit of a joke. "Don't mention the war!" he'd say. Or make out the day was going to be a disaster, "just like 'Apocalypse Now'" he'd say then burst out laughing. Then he suggested we make her some dog stew instead of Sunday roast. I politely reminded him that it was the Koreans not the Vietnamese who were notorious for eating dog meat but he just called me a spoilsport.
Well then, D-Day arrived. Mikey turned up in a white collarless shirt looking like he’s just stepped off a boat from the Far East. Pleased as punch, he made the polite introductions. Her name was Bian, pronounced “Bee-Ann”. She was a spindly little thing, looked like she’d blow away in a strong wind. Mikey had said she was beautiful and….well, I s’pose it’s all in the eye of the beholder. And our boy certainly seemed to be doing a lot of beholding. He was handling the girl like she was made of porcelain.
She was all…..terribly polite and smiling and bowing, a bit like you see the Japanese do. On the one hand, it was a pleasant change from the bold and brassy entrance of that awful Sue but it also seemed so…… how can I put it, submissive. Mikey didn’t seem to mind a bit. Maybe he was tired of being under the thumb, I dunno.
We all sat down and then another small bone of contention sprang up. We were told that Bian spoke good English but what he meant was she spoke a smattering of pidgin English with a heavy Vietnamese accent and a fair number of misunderstandings in between.
She found the roast pork dinner I’d cooked a bit overwhelming. Like most English people, we don’t think anything of having a good Sunday roast in the middle of summer. Tom said something about Vietnamese pot bellied pigs and she couldn’t quite understand and it all became even more confusing. Mikey was attentive and patient and understanding which was all very good but…..but it gave me the impression of someone looking after a difficult child. I wondered what on earth they talked about when they were alone with each other. Maybe they didn’t talk. Maybe they just occupied their time with…..you know, other things.
I asked her what she did for a living and she said she worked in a restaurant. Then I asked her what her plans were and she said she wanted to marry a nice man in England and settle down and have lots of babies. It was the way she looked at Mikey as she said it that unsettled me. Even Tom quickly glanced at me. We just didn’t see this as anything like a serious relationship. Why would we? Neither Tom or me looked best pleased about this domestic turn of events so I think the conversation – or whatever it was - quickly turned to something else. It was all a bit…..unsettling, like finding yourself in a boat full of foreigners all speaking different languages and you can’t get off.
The day ended. Bian left us as politely as she’d arrived. I honestly couldn’t read my son’s face to see what he was thinking. Was this the kind of future he had planned for himself when he chatted up a waitress?
As it happened, things didn’t turn out that way. Mikey can be a bit naïve but he’s not totally stupid. He put a quiet halt to the proceedings. I mean, Bian could barely speak a proper sentence in English, they had nothing in common, they seemed physically incompatible, she had very few skills or qualifications and, oh, there was just one tiny little thing nobody remembered to mention – she was an illegal immigrant. She was working cash in hand and on the lookout for a nice Englishman to provide for her. I looked up her name afterwards on Google. It said Bian in Vietnamese means “A woman of secrets.” Well, you’re not wrong there.
I suppose our strange Sunday lunch wasn’t a total disaster - at least nobody mentioned the war.
THE BIG REVEAL
A MAN OF AROUND 40 IS SEATED. HE IS SLIGHTLY UNSHAVEN, CASUALLY DRESSED AND LOOKS A LITTLE TIRED. HE STANDS UP AND ADDRESSES A GROUP.
Hi everyone. I'm Lawrence.....and I'm an alcoholic. (HE BURSTS OUT LAUGHING). Ha, I-I've been wanting to say that for years. It's like, well, it's just classic, isn't it, like "Women and Children first!" or "Take me to your leader" or "Go ahead, punk, make my day."
'Course, when you're actually here and surrounded by you stoney faced buggers it's not quite the same, y'know? I mean, frankly speaking, some of you look like you could do with a couple of shots to put a smile on your face. (SMILES) Alright, alright, no need to look so freaked out. I know the score. Confession time, isn’t it? The big reveal. Pour out my aching heart and grovel for all the terrible things I’ve done. (PAUSE) Truth is – and you’re really not gonna like this – truth is, what I should of said was “I’m Lawrence and I’m not an alcoholic.” Now that would’ve made a bit more sense, y’know? A lot more sense. And if you think I’m less than enthusiastic about being here, well I’ve got a bit of a secret. (LOOKS AROUND CONSPIRATORIALLY). Truth is, my wife Janice, she put me up to it. I’m serious. She said to me, Larry, she said, I want you to take yourself off to the AA. I looked her straight in the eye and said I am not going to the AA – there is nothing wrong with that car! (GRINS, THEN STOPS). I am gonna have to change my material.
(GLANCES AT HIS WATCH). So, she’s going on and on about me having this “problem” like I’m impotent or I’m going loopy or something. In fact, she’s gone on and on about this alleged problem for as long as I can remember. And the nag definitely has more to answer for than the nag-ee as far as I’m concerned. She says I need to get “sorted out” and maybe I could meet some kindred spirits. I laughed and said the only kindred spirits – Boom! And she cut me short just like that. I guess she’s heard all my booze jokes before. I mean, this….this ‘thing’, it’s all part of married life, y’know? There’s all this give and take, push and pull, swings and roundabouts, ‘cept in my case, there was an awful, awful lot of ‘take’. In fact, a very unnecessary piece of ‘take’. You know what she said? You know what she actually said to me? If I don’t sign up with the AA, then she’s removing my….my, y’know, conjugals. Denying me my you-know-what. Seriously, in this day and age. It-it’s like you may as well take away a man’s right to have food and drink and somewhere to piss. And the worst of it, the worst of it is I haven’t done anything wrong, y’know? I mean, Christ, what man doesn’t like a drink now and then? Honestly, she talks about me like I’m a drug addict or something. It’s not like I’m going out mugging people for some crack-cocaine, is it? Well, is it? The way she acts you’d think I was doing something illegal. She says I’ve got a problem ‘cos I’m stashing bottles away in secret places. (LOOKS EXASPERATED) Well of course I am! If I didn’t, she’d pour it all down the drain like she’s done before. Protecting your booze is like…..well it’s like “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” It’s my God-given right to defend my home and even have a drink now and then, y’know?
Oh, and…..and you know what? It doesn’t end there. Not by a long chalk. So, I’m the breadwinner, right? I’m the one who brings home most of the wages. She’s just got a small part time job, doesn’t pay much. And she actually has the gall to say I’m drinking the money away. “Our money” she calls it. Frankly, I work bloody hard for it so I can do what I want with it. And the way she talks, it’s like I’m down the ‘offy’ every night buying out their entire stock. Women, they just exaggerate. Everything’s a huge issue. And she…..she just doesn’t let it go. Now she’s started saying I’m short-tempered. Me?! I’m the most amiable bloke you ever met. She says I’m snapping at her all the time. Well, wouldn’t you get a bit irksome if your spouse was nagging you like there’s no tomorrow? I mean, who does she think I am, the Dalai bleeding Lama? It’s like, ever since Adam and Eve, there’s always gonna be a bit of a fallout, y’know?
(SIGHS) You’d think, wouldn’t you, that all my problems were in the home but…. just like anyone else, I got my own stresses and strains. So I take a nip of vodka into work just to keep the devil at the door. Why wouldn’t I? People going on at me all day, telling me I’m not up to the job. People who’ve been there less time than me. It-it just gets under a man’s skin, y’know? I had a row, this steaming row with a workmate. You know what he said to me, he said I had a problem and I should “seek help”. Seek help?! Cheeky bastard. You know what I said to him? I told him I’d “seek help” getting some colleagues who weren’t on my case all the time. Honestly, you go into work and it’s like being with twenty different versions of your wife.
So, all I’ve gotta say is, these things are all…..they’re all a matter of perspective. If I get a bit tipsy now and again, that’s nobody’s business but mine. And being a little bit drunk once in a while absolutely doesn’t mean I’m a drunk, y’know? You see how easily these things get confused? Course you do; that’s why you’re here.
So there you have it. I’m a man with a taste for the good stuff in which I occasionally indulge. And it’s all turned into fake news by people who really should know me better. Shame on them.
(GLANCES AGAIN AT HIS WATCH) Well, must go. Gotta see a man about a dog. (GRINS) Nice, er, chatting to you all. Toodleloo. (WALKS AWAY)
THE SERVANTS OF THIS HOUSE
A WOMAN IN HER EARLY FIFTIES, SMARTLY TURNED OUT IN BUSINESS SUIT. SHE'S COMPOSED AND FOCUSED BUT SERIOUS.
Mr Speaker, my Right Honourable friends and colleagues. (PAUSE) Seventeen years ago, having won my constituency by a large majority, I was honoured to have played a part in winning a general election and to have earned a seat in this prestigious house. I’ve since won that seat three times and I remain indebted to certain mentors in my party and to my constituents for their continued support.
At the time I felt, perhaps with some naivety, that we were a forward looking institution, ready to propel ourselves into the twenty-first century, that the bigotry and sexism from times past was just that…..in the past. The respect I believe I deserved as a working MP, regardless of my gender I thought was a given, my natural due. I was dismayed then angered by the demeaning comments from a (thankfully) few number of my male colleagues, all of them old enough to be my father and, apparently, still living in some sort of nostalgic fog of good old fashioned 1970’s chauvinism. When the compliments about my appearance degenerated into lewd suggestions and provocative innuendos, my formal complaint to the powers-that-be resulted in more of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge slap on the wrist than anything like a justifiable penalty. It seems that the Old Boy’s Club is still alive and kicking.
This was not acceptable conduct by anyone’s standards. And it never will be. In my personal experience, this kind of behaviour has diminished somewhat, partly through official if desultory reprimands but also from my growing a thicker skin, learning how to counter-attack and probably succumbing to the advance of years and making myself a less attractive prospect. (THIN SMILE) I suspect, however, that the temptation of some of my male colleagues to succumb to their worst instincts is ever present.
If this were all, if this was my only cause for concern, then I could conceivably put it behind me and move on into what Churchill euphemistically called the “broad sunlit uplands.” Let me say first that I’m immensely proud of the gains I’ve made within my borough. Working with the council to reduce the number of library closures, saving the community centre from demolition, working with disaffected youth and preventing a British born citizen from being deported to Afghanistan where he would have been killed….it’s all made the hard work worthwhile. I’m deeply thankful to the party faithful and my assistants who’ve worked behind the scenes to ensure that the rough and tumble of local politics all…..fits into place.
I’ve always thought the opposition were to be regarded as some sort of mortal foe, never the twain shall meet and all that. It came as a bit of a surprise, shock even, to learn that we had common ground on certain peripheral issues and I was able to work with a few MP’s from the enemy trench. We may come from opposing sides of the House with our own ideological agendas, but after a bit of wrangling, we were able to attain certain objectives for the general good. I’ve developed a grudging respect for their years of experience and even regard one or two as my friends. They’re not quite the satanic ogres I was lead to expect…. well, some of them anyway. (SUBDUED LAUGHTER)
(LONG SIGH) Some – and I know it’s only some of you - may have got into politics for much the same reason I did. I genuinely wanted to make a difference. I wanted to empower those who were disempowered; I wanted to play some small part in helping enrich the impoverished; and I wanted to speak up for those who had no voice. In time I came to realise that these high ideals came with a price tag….and sadly, it’s a price I’m just not willing to pay. Because there are some here who have forgotten that we are the servants of this House not its masters.
The greatest in the land have their weaknesses, their own personal Achilles heel. Any of us can fall prey to overweening ambition, envy, sexual desire, insecurity, material greed or just downright ruthlessness. But sometimes, the rank dishonesty and forced departure from some of the ideals we’ve set ourselves is….well, it’s a thing to behold. There are those among us on both sides of the House who are long in the tooth and know how to play the game. They know how to initiate those extra-curricular activities to suit themselves, to suit their prestige, to impress the mistress or bolster that off-shore account. The shameless gerrymandering, the expense claims that are anything but, the quid pro quo’s that are only ever conducted verbally, the paper trails that lead to nowhere, the quiet deals behind closed doors with corporate sponsors, wish lists for certain individuals in exchange for sizeable donations, all those “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” under-the-table arrangements. And the opposition needn’t look so smug; the worst of you are willing participants in the same dirty race. Whether we go back in history to paid votes and rotten boroughs or leap forward to the present day, for a certain number of my morally bankrupt colleagues, the song remains very much the same.
I’m sure there are a number of you who, even now, are saying “Silly cow! Where does she think she is, Disneyland?” Of course I don’t but I do believe that as Parliamentarians, this is a calling as much as…..no, more than anything else and it should be approached with passion, with integrity, with boldness and with good heart. We are the sum of the people we represent.
(PAUSE. LONG SIGH) It is with the deepest regret, Mr Speaker, that I am resigning my position as minister of Parliament for reasons I believe I’ve made obvious. I hope and trust in the House I am leaving that the unscrupulous do not speak and act for the conscientious.
Bless you and may God go with you.
MEETING THE FOLKS #3 - LOVELY LISA
DOROTHY ADDRESSES THE CAMERA. SHE LOOKS A BIT WORN OUT.
OK, Tuesday, August 26th. Kylie - disaster. Even her own parents didn't like her. Bian - you couldn't find a more incompatible partner for my boy if you tried. It wasn't quite 'Apocalypse Now' as Tom kept joking, but it was a bit ‘Calamity Bian. I’m not one to interfere in my son’s dating arrangements but I was beginning to despair of the boy ever finding a decent long term girlfriend. He hadn’t had any trouble in his teens; how come he’d lost his taste buds in the last year? Tom told me not to worry, he was still finding his feet. I said he keeps tripping up, that’s why he can’t find his feet.
So now Mikey gets a bit wary when I ask if he’s seeing anyone. He knows he scored a couple of own goals recently. I can sort of tell he’s met someone by the phone conversations. They’re all a bit subdued and secretive. You don’t talk to your friends in that way…..and if his face glowed like that when he was talking to his best mate Luke then I’d start to worry.
So, who is she? I asked Mikey.
Huh, who? he said.
Got yourself a femme fatale…..or a friendly assassin, maybe? I replied, smiling.
Or a Dominatrix from Soho? chipped in Tom a bit too enthusiastically.
Judging by the look on Mikey’s face, I think we overstepped the mark. He glanced at us from one to the other. He put his hands on his hips like a little boy trying to make a point and he said: “Actually, her name’s Lisa, and she’s a really nice girl and we get on amazingly and she even said she really wants to meet you and come over to the house for Sunday lunch.”
Okayyy, I said. How many languages do we need to learn?
Just one. Just bloody English! the schoolboy shot back.
I glanced over at Tom and shrugged. He shrugged back.
Okay, I said, tell your new perfect girlfriend we’ll be delighted to have the two of you over next Sunday.
And tell her to leave the handcuffs at home, said Tom helpfully.
* * * * *
Sunday arrives once again. There are no dietary requirements so I made a full proper English roast beef with all the trimmings, Maris Piper roasters in goose fat all fluffy on the inside and golden crispy on the outside, honeyed parsnips and buttered sprouts, home made stuffing and gravy. What could go wrong?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing went wrong. Lisa was lovely. In fact, Tom and I referred to her as ‘Lovely Lisa’ after that first visit. Good looking girl, same age as Mikey, attractive brunette with pretty brown eyes. And nicely dressed, long skirt and a blouse, no…..impropriety. Great manners, minded her P's and Q’s, quick to laugh at Tom’s terrible jokes, seemed to adore Mikey, always touching him in a nice affectionate way.
I asked what she did for a living and she said she takes care of properties so I guess she worked for an estate agent. She asked in a really respectful way if she could have a guided tour of the house since we were obviously so amazing in the way we looked after our home. How could I say no to such a charming young lady? She cooed and gasped as I showed her each of the pristine bedrooms and bathroom. Obviously, I’d had a really good clean-up before she arrived. Just in case.
What can I say? Lisa was funny, bright, easy-going, polite and…..and, well, great company. Mikey seemed as pleased as punch, like any previous mishaps were just a training ground for this one. They left after a lovely afternoon of a fine roast (even if I do say so myself), a very decent Bordeaux provided by Lisa and fun and chit-chat. Tom put his arm around me as they drove off and said Well, she seemed nice, didn’t she? They came again three weeks later. It was just like before. They seemed more like a couple this time, like they sort of belonged together. Mikey had grown up and found a mature woman with a great personality. This time, I’d become even more optimistic. We’d only met Lisa twice but already I was having these misty thoughts of an engagement and……well, you know. (SIGHS) You know.
* * * * *
Later that week as we were going out, Tom shouted down from upstairs “Have you seen my cuff-links?” At first I thought he’d just mislaid them. Then my beautiful emerald earrings couldn’t be found. And Tom’s dress watch. And my engagement ring, not worth much ‘cos we didn’t have a lot in those days but…..but priceless in other ways. “Have-you-seen-my-cuff-links?” With those five words, my stupid dreams for Mikey turned into ash.
It wasn’t easy but we informed Mikey as best we could. I thought he’d be really defensive about her but, reluctantly, very reluctantly, he confessed he was having his doubts when he was round her flat and picked up an exquisite ladies’ watch engraved with somebody else’s name. He said she snatched it off him and said it was her mother’s or something.
So, I said, you had your suspicions but didn’t think to mention it to us? And you brought her round the house, your family home to steal our most precious things?
Well, he shrugged, when you put it like that…. Sorry, he said.
* * * * *
The police caught her when she got careless. Turns out she was a kleptomaniac, like a magpie obsessed by shiny things. She couldn’t help herself apparently. Seems all too convenient to me, just an excuse for being a common thief. We got everything back except Tom’s watch. I learned two lessons from this experience……One, when someone tells you they “take care of properties”, it can mean all sorts of things. And Two, my son is an idiot and probably always will be.
OUR LIFE OF BALANCE
A NATIVE AMERICAN, TALL AND PROUD, STANDS DRESSED IN HIS FINEST REGALIA. HE SPEAKS SLOWLY, CHOOSING HIS WORDS CAREFULLY.
Black Robe, you have come to us with an open heart. You have spoken to us of your love for the Great Spirit and your desire for my people to follow him as you follow him. This son of the Creator sounds to us like a good human who walks the Red Road in peace and virtue.
We have listened carefully to your words. Now I, Masquait, leader for my tribe, will answer.
You say that we are not living in God's grace. Look around you, Black Robe. My people are strong and content. The corn and squash grows with vigour, the fish and deer meat is smoked so that we do not hunger in the winter, the forest provides us with all we need. The water is clear and good to drink, our children have full bellies and the women work hard and their wisdom is sought in council matters while our men freely hunt for the village and protect their people. How is it that you say we are not living in God's grace? We give thanks for the land and all living things upon it and regard all that we have as sacred.
You say it is forbidden for us to hunt on "Sun-day" for this is God's day. We do not understand this. We count the days according to the moon and the change in the seasons. Know this, Black Robe, when the rain gives life to our crops, when our children play in the river, when we find a herd of deer after tracking them.....for us, every day is God's day.
Again I say to you, we respect you for your love of the Creator and his blessed son, the holy man. Why do you not accord us the same respect?
We are not a warlike people and yet sometimes we fight other tribes. We fight because some of our young men want standing and reputation by winning war honours. We may fight to avenge a wrong or we fight to gain captives to make our people stronger. But, Black Robe, know this....we never fight over our love for the Creator. We come together for ceremony and kinship but how each man and each nation conduct themselves with God is a matter for them.
You say that your faith will make better men of us. It has not made better men of your people who have built a settlement only a day's walk from here. They have cut down the forest, taken all the fish from the lake and slaughtered the wild animals with no thought for the needs of their children or grandchildren. They have not treated our women with respect and shot at our men who came only to trade. And they have destroyed our sacred grounds where the bones of our forefathers lie. These are precious to us. What would you think, Black Robe, if we were so inclined that we ruined and burned your places of worship? You say it is Christian to forgive. Would your Christian people forgive such a thing?
You speak in great reverence of your great book. You say it contains power and truth and we may learn wisdom from it. I tell you this, we have no need of your book. Each man and woman has their own spirit medicine, each village their own Holy person and elders who give us the light of their years of experience and insight. They are blessed grandfathers and grandmothers to all our children.
You say that you will live among us and teach us to "read" and so understand this book. What use is this to us? We can read the sky and know when rain is to fall, we can read the growth of our crops, we can read the movements of the trees and the flow of rivers and the lifeways of all wild things in the forest. This is our book, Black Robe.
The Creator made all - the earth, the mountains, the lakes and rivers, the forest and the meadows and all of life within it including us, his children and even you and your people. Our beliefs and the way in which we embrace our world is sacred to us. These are the revered lifeways of our ancestors and this has been so for many generations. It is the centre of where we are and who we are in the Great Circle of life. We cannot walk away from the blessings of the Great Spirit and our life of balance. He has given us this land so that we may thrive and this is how it has always been. We cannot accept a faith unknown to us, a faith in which we need to be instructed by a strange people who do not know how to live in this land.
If you wish you may send some of your young men to stay with us. We will teach them how to bless the spirit of all living things, to be grateful to the Creator every day. (SMILES) We will teach them to live in the forest in a good way and how to become human beings.
Until then, go in peace Black Robe. May your path be clear and your life be lightened by the blessings of the Great Spirit.
I am Masquait and I have spoken.
A PLACE TO KIP
A WEATHERBEATEN MAN WITH GREYING BEARD AND DISHEVELLED CLOTHES. HE LOOKS AROUND 60. HE COULD ALSO BE IN HIS LATE 40'S.
Well, you 'n' me been on the road a while....a long while now. We seen our share, 'ain't we? Traipsin' up 'n' down to near midnight lookin' for a place to kip an' then moved on by the coppers when they didn't like the look of us. Mind you, I remember, that one with the ginger 'air and he seemed alright, even got us a cuppa tea sometimes.
An' y'remember that doorstep down Alperton way? The shoe shop near the big street light? The ol' west Indian lady? Said her eldest was inside for this, that and the other. Food she bought us was good 'n' hot....though that jerk chicken had a bloody kick to it, eh? Ya gotta give some people their due, they come up with the goods sometimes.
An' you can't knock the shelters can ya, not really. Trouble is, they's full o' people like us....'cept not like us with all their gripin' and whinin' and snorin' and coughin'. Some of 'em's grateful, some of 'em ain't. Gimme the open road anytime. Ya never know what's round the corner but at least you're not at the beck and call of others. There's good 'n' bad in that, I s'pose.
Still, the road's not safe either. Those blokes layin' into us that time. (SLOWLY SHAKES HIS HEAD) There weren't no call for that. I mean, if you give someone a kickin' 'cos you ain't got nothin' yourself, well that's one thing. But kickin' the crap outta someone just for a laugh. That ain't right. It just ain't right. Their mothers must've dragged 'em up somethin’ awful to think they can do that to people.
It's been a long haul, ain't it? Day to day, week to week, month to month...then year to year. Didn't think it would come to that to be honest. Summers were good though. More people about. So long's we 'ad water and a bit o' shade. Winters? Well, we know all about them don't we? Don't matter how many layers you put on yourself, that wind still bites into your bones. People more inclined to give ya somethin' though. They's thinkin' "Shit, that could be me sittin' there freezing me arse off." But....y'know it's all luck o' the draw, innit? And luck don't last forever.
We're not gettin' any younger are we, me ol' mate? We been through some times but even the open road, it's gotta end somewhere. Just don't want it to end at the bleedin' crematorium. Freezin' my bollocks off last night and it's only November. I can't.....I just can't do this shit any more. They offered me a place. It's not great but it beats the crap outta sleepin' in doorways and benches. Said they'd even try and find me a job, nothin' fancy, just somethin' to keep me goin'. I was always good with me 'ands and I got common sense. Maybe that’s all I need.
So....that's it then, me ol' mate. You been a good companion, can't deny that. You never complained, never whined....too much. Couldn't 'ave asked for better really. It's time to make a go o’ things before I start runnin' out.....runnin’ outta time, then run outta luck…..
(SIGHS) So long, brother. See ya around…..
WE SEE THAT HE'S BEEN TALKING TO HIS REFLECTION IN A SHOP WINDOW. HE WALKS AWAY FROM IT.
THE WAY HE WAS
A MAN IN HIS LATE 50'S IS AT A PODIUM. HE'S WEARING A CASUALLY SMART JACKET, A BLACK LEATHER WAISTCOAT AND A BLACK TIE.
I first met Leon when I was twenty years old at a Blues gig. I can't even remember who the band was but in those days, I'd just roll up to anything that sounded vaguely promising. I dragged along Nicole, my girlfriend at the time, but she wandered off somewhere.
I caught sight of this guy next to me. We were the same age and he was wearing what looked like a sort of subdued version of a Sgt Peppers jacket, black with epaulettes and braiding. It had a distinct military look about it but the guy wearing it wouldn't have been accepted into this or any other army in a hundred lifetimes. His hair was frizzy and a little wild and held back by a purple sash. He was mixed-race (half Irish, half Jamaican) though he could have come from any place or any race. Around his neck was a miscellaneous assortment of charms and trinkets. He may have resembled a walking stereotype of a 1960's hippy but somehow it all fitted him naturally like a velvet glove.
Despite his regalia, what really caught my attention was his hands. He was completely focused on the band's lead guitarist while his long fingers were moving in various rhythms and I realised he was trying to duplicate the notes and imaginary chords. The song finished. I turned to this strange dude, smiled and said "Hey man, nice moves" and we became the best of friends for nearly four decades.
Leon hit it off with my crowd almost immediately….my slightly demented dope-smoking, heavy drinking bunch of rocking party animals. (GLANCES TO HIS LEFT) Some of you jokers are here now, a bit thinner on top and a bit wider round the middle. (SUBDUED LAUGHTER). He mixed in almost seamlessly and my friends became his friends. It's a bit of a cliché to describe Leon as "a free spirit". He didn't set out to be a maverick or to flaunt authority or bend the rules most of us grudgingly live by. It's just the way he was. He moved to the rhythm of his own heartbeat and nobody else’s.
As a friend though....as a friend, Leon was the best. Almost without knowing it, he became a part of our lives. Whether it was roaming the streets of Amsterdam, dropping acid at Glastonbury, meeting up in 'The New Inn' or just sitting around in the park, he was an essential part of the crew, full of fun, quick to laugh and sometimes quick tempered, he always had your back and you can't ask more of a pal than that.
We were once invited to a party in Greenford by one of the barmaids. She said it was fancy dress. Leon said he had to “see a man about a dog" and he'd be along afterwards. We all made an effort, turning up as Dracula, Jimi Hendrix, a viking and what have you. Leon turns up late. He's in his usual gear. Sgt Pepper jacket, black leather waistcoat (the same one I’m wearing now), scarlet trousers, a bullet belt and a yellow sash around his thigh. All the guests who didn't know him were gushing at how amazing he looked and if there was a competition he'd win first prize. He looked a bit bewildered and said he'd totally forgotten the gig was fancy dress. We just fell about the place. Much later the four of us - still dressed as we were - drove to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise over the sacred stones till the Gendarmerie caught us and sent us packing. But, hey, that's another story.
In our endless single-minded pursuit of the fairer sex, we were jealous of Leon’s sex appeal. Women were drawn to his flamboyance, his wicked charm and his devil-may-care attitude to his own existence but they were exasperated by his fluid temperament and phenomenal inconsistency. He was no more likely to remain in a committed relationship than he was to have a lifetime career in the civil service. Behind all that fun-loving, live for the moment persona, there was a darker, uncontrolled, more serious side to him. Everything has its price.
I guess that was one of the things I liked about Leon. Behind the mischievous hedonist was someone with a raw intelligence. I’m not talking about university degrees and academia. I mean that insatiable curiosity about the world and the people in it. Leon was never much of well-travelled guy but he certainly did a lot of exploring with his mind. Only he could come up with something like “I reckon God is seeing a therapist. He creates Paradise, everyone makes a mess of it and millions of dudes are calling him out to make it all better. That’d drive anyone nuts, right?” We had some doped-up, rum-soaked conversations well into the night about life, the universe and everything, most of it probably a load of gibberish but it all felt very meaningful and existential at the time.
There’s no question that Leon lived and died excessively. As he grew, kicking and screaming into middle age, he was more and more beset by life’s trials and tribulations. When his mother asked me to give the eulogy, I told them I’d be a “Speaker for the Dead” meaning I’d honour the man and celebrate his life but I wouldn’t put him on a pedestal and gloss over the less praiseworthy aspects of his life. Leon had an addictive personality – in all ways. Behind the rogue-ish grin was a man wrestling with his own personal demons. Booze and drugs gave him some sort of respite but they also unleashed his darker side and, as we all know, eventually consumed him.
But the real burning passion that kept Leon going and all of you would agree with me, was music. It was the one thing that kept him from the brink for so many years. We’ll always remember Leon’s mad enthusiasm for Hendrix and the Beatles and the trippy years of Pink Floyd, his passion for psychedelia and colour and carnival. Part of him was like a kid on Christmas morning who never wanted to grow old. Some of you will remember when Leon used to walk around in summer with a 12 string acoustic strung across his back and he’d play “Horse With No Name” and “Sunny Afternoon” and “Norwegian Wood” in parks and pub gardens. I’d join in and harmonise and while we often got some strange looks mixed with a bit of applause, no-one ever threw us out.
Music was Leon’s liberation and self-fulfilment. He was a crazy combination of all the characters he sung about or listened to. He was, of course, Sgt Pepper and the Fool on the Hill, he was Eazy Rider and Voodoo Chile and Johnny B Goode. And he was Floyd’s Crazy Diamond still shining despite those self-destructive demons trying to pull him down. But most of all, Leon was Mr Tambourine Man, a born troubadour and free spirit, trying to lead us like a modern Pied Piper to a better world in which we would all be excellent to each other.
Goodbye, my old mate – and may you finally rest in peace.
A WOMAN, HANNAH, IN HER LATE 20'S. SHE'S ATTRACTIVE, NO MAKE-UP AND WEARING A ROCK T-SHIRT. SHE'S SITTING ON THE GROUND. THE SOUND OF THE OCEAN IS IN THE BACKGROUND. SHE SETS UP HER PHONE FOR A VIDEO.
I've come to the coast. I started making this video in my flat but....well, it wasn't really appropriate. I needed to be here, where I can breathe and just be surrounded by (SWEEP OF THE ARM) all this.
(LONG PAUSE) I'm dying. Shock. Gasp. P'raps not so much to my friends and family. They've known a while now. Either gushed helplessly or bitten the bullet and sort of hope it’ll all go away. Fat chance.
No need for detail. Some cancers kill you, some don't. This one does. What the docs like to call "aggressive" though I can't get my head round any cancer being passive. They don't really know when....when I'll be gone but it's my thirtieth birthday in seven months and no-one's putting money on me being around for it. It wasn't too long ago I dreaded being thirty. It seemed too old, too 'adult'. Now it seems way too young. Funny really.
I decided to say what I wanna say before I'm too out of it on medication or I have to wear a stupid wig or I start slurring my words or whatever. Incoherence isn't very attractive especially when you're sober.
The docs aren't sure about me driving for any long distance so Steve drove me here. He's keeping his distance, letting me get on with this. He's been a rock, an absolute rock. I'm so blessed to have him in my life and then when all the tests showed positive or negative or whatever - I still get confused - he didn't do a runner and leave me to it. I hope my brothers'll keep an eye on him afterwards. Same for my parents. They haven't handled it well at all. I mean, who would? "You're our Number One daughter" they used to say to me. I had to politely remind them I was their only daughter. An old joke but somehow it sort of bound us together.
You might think I’m really calm and collected talking about my impending death like it’s a TV programme I’ve just watched. Honestly, you wouldn’t think so if you’d seen me when all this came out….the tears, nightmares about falling into darkness, losing my rag with people who love me and-and were almost as stricken as I was. It wasn’t good.
(PAUSE) It’s behind me now. For the most part. I think I just burned myself out. I realised there’s nothing I can do. I don’t wanna go, of course I don’t, but there comes a sort of settling in, like going down with a ship without a lifeboat….or to add to the nautical crap, it’s like being pulled along with the tide and all you can do is hold your breath and see where it takes you. ‘Cept I already know where it’s taking me. (LOOKS AROUND) Y’know, there’s a reason I came here to talk like this. I wanted to offer some, I dunno, some words of advice. Pretty stupid, huh? Just because I’m dying, doesn’t mean I’ve got the answer to life, the universe and everything, does it? Maybe you’d better read the bible or look up Confucious or some seventeen year old on YouTube who reckons they know it all.
I can say something about how I feel. How I got really resentful and kept saying “Why me?!” like I was being singled out by God or something and nobody except me was suffering and everyone else could just get on with their lives. That kind of self pity, it comes easy when you’ve got no self-control over events, over your own life. But all I was doing was just getting angrier and more unhappy and making things really difficult for those around me. There’s a Children’s Cancer ward in my hospital. Some of those poor little kids don’t even make it into adolescence. Compared to that, I’m….well, I’m lucky really. I mean, look at Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain. They all died at 27. I’ve actually got two or three years on those guys. See? It’s not all downhill. You can always salvage something from a bit of bad news. (HALF SMILE)
Y’know, half my friends are embarrassed to be around me. They look at their feet, their phone, their watch…..anything but my face. But Shanti? Ha, you can always rely on Shanti to look you in the eye and say what’s on her mind. "Hannah," she said, with that curious look on her face. "Hannah, what do you love most about life and what will you miss the most?"
What can I say? I love everything about life and if you catch me in the wrong moment, maybe I’ll hate it all just the same. Like anyone else really. I s’pose if I think about it, I’m a bit of a Nature Girl. Always have been despite living in a city. It sounds like a stupid cliché if I say I wanna feel the wind on my face and hear the roar of the ocean and eat wild strawberries and see the leaves fall in Autumn. But…but it’s true. I love those things. I’m not ashamed of it. So, that’s what I told her. "And what about the things you’ll miss," she said. Well, how am I to bloody know?! I’m not going on a sabbatical; I’ll be too dead to miss them. Shanti, I said to her, sometimes you can be a bit of a twat.
"What about regrets?" she asked me. "Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” Nothing I’ve done really. I’m a good girl I am….up to a point. But not having a child, a little girl. I’ll never get to…..it’s just as well we didn’t, what with everything.
And then Shanti said, "what would you tell your daughter if-" and that’s when I told her to shut up and get real. And she said, "what about everyone else?" and I…..really, that was what gave me the idea to do this vid. So, if there’s one thing I wanna say that maybe did change for me was that people were whining about stupid little things like the poor picture quality on their phone or the boss keeps calling me “love” or Dad ranting about his sat-nav in the car or so-and-so said this-or-that about whatever or-or any of that stuff. They’re just stupid, stupid little things to be worked out. You can’t live a proper life with those nagging problems dragging you down. And you shouldn’t be dying with them either.
Another cliché for you. “Life’s too short.” Well, guess what, for some of us, it really is too bloody short. So just….stop the bickering and the gripes and saving face and lying to yourself and everyone else and saying one thing to someone’s face and something different behind their back and-and get a fucking perspective.
Sorry if I sound like a preachy sanctimonious little bitch but I’ve got three pieces of advice before I sign off: Be Kind. Be Kind. Be Kind. And like Jimi Hendrix wrote: “If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll meet you in the next one. Don’t be late.” (SMILES) Love to all. Ciao. (TURNS OFF VIDEO)
ROOTS - THE RIGHT WAY TO GROW
I was conceived by an Elder, but born in the moist, dark soil. Unseen except for worms and moles, I was cocooned in the smothering embrace of the earth.
I had no conception of any other world than this till, one day, my shoots began to reach out without knowing where or why.
Sometime later, the white light came. At first afraid, I made it my home. The warmth that came with the light I greedily consumed. The water that fell with the light, I drank my fill.
I slowly became aware that the other little saplings were my brothers and sisters. Together, we endeavoured and strived to reach further into the light so that we might stand proud and tall with our giant Elders.
Sadly, for most of us this was not to be. One by one, all my brothers and sisters were devoured by the four-legged creatures. Why they spared my life was a mystery to me at the time. I mourned for my lost siblings then continued my journey to the light.
When the warm time ended, my leaves lost their colour, weakened and died, falling uselessly to the ground. I was terrified! Especially when I saw all of my Elders suffering from the same disease. But they assured me that this was a natural condition and, as always, they were right.
After the cold time, the warm light returned, the pulse of life flowed quickly within me and new leaves grew again. I laughed for joy.
In the cycles that followed, the Elders took me under their branch and taught me the customs and habits of treelore. They told me of our creation stories and the right way to grow. They instructed me in the ways of the feathered ones, the creepy-crawlies and the four-leggeds. And they warned me to beware of the two-leggeds.
This was my time of awakening. My roots reached deeper into the earth, anchoring me to the place of my birth while my body stretched upwards and outwards, striving to kiss the sky and touch limbs with my revered Elders.
I moved to the rhythms of a slow and graceful dance; my song was the wind blowing new life through my fresh, green leaves.
Then the storm came. The wind that had caressed us now tore through us. All of my Elders, those wise and gentle giants, my ancient illustrious brethren, perished in the onslaught. They fell to the ground, shaking my foundations.
Why the storm spared me and not my Elders was a mystery to me at the time.
The breath of the forest had become the death of the forest. But as the warm light came once again, new saplings sprang from the earth and looked to me for guidance and instruction. The teachings of my Elders had provided nourishment and hope.
Many more cycles passed and the desecrated wood became a forest once again. Like those before me, I had, almost without noticing, become an Elder. But as we settled ourselves to the rhythms of everything around us, a new storm broke....
Without warning, the two-leggeds came into our home and made war upon us. I can still hear the sound of the metal teeth cutting into the lifelines of my kindred, and the sight of them crashing to the ground in their death throes. It makes my heart sick and sad to think of it. The two-leggeds attacked and destroyed all of my kind.....all but one.
Why they spared my life was a mystery to me at the time.
* * * * * *
The forest has become a field with just one oak tree stooping rather than standing in the middle of it. I have been alone.....and yet not alone. The creatures tend to depend on me more than they used to. More birds nest in my branches, the creepy-crawlies see in me a place of refuge and the four-leggeds come to eat my acorns which I give them obligingly in remembrance of my sapling years.
I have made peace with the two-leggeds and they have made peace with me. Artists come to paint me, children swing from my old but mighty limbs and families picnic in the shade that I offer them. Occasionally, I drop a few acorns onto their heads to remind them of the gift of life.
In my maturity I still reach for the light but not with the fervour of my youth. With more cycles spent than those I have left, I tend to reflect on what has gone before me. As I slowly look down to the base of my trunk and beyond, I finally understand that my beginnings and my end lie deep within my roots….
KING O’ THE WORLD
A MAN IN HIS MID-THIRTIES IS STANDING IN THE DOCK. HE IS WEARING A JACKET BUT NO TIE. HE HALF SMILES THEN ADDRESSES THE JUDGE.
"Thank you, yer Honour.
First....well, I put me 'ands up to everythin' I was charged with. Everythin' that is 'cept for the audi in Belsize Park and the house in Elms avenue two year ago. Nothin' to do with me, those two . I think the Gendarmerie have been gettin'a bit ahead of themselves (TURNS TO COURT) ain't that right, DI Mills? Lookin' for that inspector's job are we? (BACK TO THE JUDGE). Nothing like fillin' in the gaps, is there?
Let's face it, I'm a dishonest man, yer Honour. Goes with out sayin'. Thievin' stuff's what I do. But I'll tell ya this, standing here in court where I been had up bang to rights....at least I'm honest about me dishonesty. But DI Mills over there, looking like the cat that got the cream, well he's......he's dishonest about his honesty if you know what I mean.
So....yeah, I did those cars over. Turned a tidy profit on 'em an' all. That warehouse in Alperton....the plumber's van in Willesden....and a few houses in the area. (LONG PAUSE). I s'pose this is where I tug me forelock, hang me 'ead in shame and apologise to the court for me wicked ways. My Brief says I should “beg the mercy of the court” and say I've had a rotten life and fell into crime and please give me another go of it 'cos everyone needs a second chance, y'know? Like maybe I should turn to God or take up poetry or jigsaw puzzles and it'll make a new man o' me.
(SHAKES HIS HEAD). The truth is, yer Honour…. I like thieving. Seriously. Ever since I was a little nipper, it's all I ever wanted to be. When my mates was watchin' Westerns and horror films, I was watchin' stuff about bank robberies and car chases....'Snatch', 'Fast and Furious', 'Lock, Stock' and all that Scorsese stuff about the Mob. Couldn't get enough of it....the idea that you could lie in bed all day, then prowl the streets at night like....well, like, y'know, Batman, but takin' stuff that people are too stupid to look after.
That buzz you get when you take a motor or when you do over a house and you're never sure it's totally empty. It's like a rush, your 'ead's swimmin' and your heart's racin' like the clappers and when you make off with the gear and it's like-like you're king o' the world and nobody can touch you, they can't even come near you...(PAUSE).....'cept that no-one's lucky all the time, eh?
(SMILES TO HIMSELF). So, ya know what? Go ahead, you do your worst, judge. And maybe I'll see you again in a few years. (WINKS)
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
A MAN IN HIS LATE SIXTIES LOOKING A BIT TIRED. HE'S STARING WITHOUT EMOTION AT THE COMPUTER SCREEN. HE SIGHS.
Right. It's on. Good God, the bloody thing actually seems to be working. (PEERS CLOSER) My lips are moving anyway and that's got to be a sign of something. Ironic really, I s'pose. Using a computer to whine about computers. (PAUSE) I don't want this to be a mad rant, it's just..... something I want to get off my chest, reasonable like and calm, no trouble to anyone. Get these little quibbles out there then I can sit down with a cup o' char and get on with my Sharpe novel.
So, to start. It's the lingo. Now I'm not a stupid sort of a bloke, I can put a sentence together. I mean, I have been speaking this language for more than sixty years. But....but there's something about this computer lingo that just leaves me cold. When my son bought me the laptop, he said "Welcome to the twenty-first century, dad" and then he buggered off and left me to it. I gave it my best, honest I did, but, God, it's like being picked up and dropped on another planet and you haven't got a clue what's going on or what the hell everyone's saying.
For starters, I worked out early on that there isn't a manual that comes with this. None. There's these instructions somewhere inside that tell you how to use the computer but, trouble is, you need a dozen Degrees in computers just to find out where they are. I mean, you get a new piece o' kit, a-a laptop or a smart phone or some other such gizmo, and these youngsters they just hit the ground running and there's no stopping 'em is there? How do they know all this? Nobody seems to teach 'em, they just have this secret underground computer slang and they automatically know this stuff like they were born with it.
Try as I might, I can't get my head around all these words and things, They might as well be double-Dutch. I was brought up to believe that words actually meant something but now it's like they all mean something else....apples and cookies and androids. There's even a Trojan horse in there somewhere. And there's me thinking I knew my ancient Greek stories.
And what about all my bits and my bytes? And then just when you think you got a handle on those, along comes megabytes and gigabytes and God knows what else I'm taking a bite out of. Puts my corned beef sandwich to shame it does.
Since my son's too busy to help his old man, he sent round Petra, my grandaughter to come round and give me a hand. Weren't much help to be honest. Don't get me wrong, she's a bright lass, honest she is, but she did the same as those bloody manufacturers and designers and experts - they all assume that when they give me instructions I already know just what they're talking about so's I don't really need 'em in the first place. She was talking so many words to the dozen about surfing and servers and hyper links and hyper text and what have you, it all made me a bit hyper myself and I just said "Look love, there's juice in the fridge, oreo's in the jar; just sit down and let me try and get on with it before you give your ol' grandad a heart attack.
(SIGHS) I know I wasn't born into this world where everything moves faster and faster and they take pictures of themselves all the time and use their phones like it's physically attached to 'em like an umbilical cord that'd kill 'em if you snipped it. I was already in my forties when Gary was coming home from school and raving about computers like aliens had just landed in the back garden. (SMILES) I s'pose in a way they had. And I'm not such a crusty old dinosaur that I thought I didn't need to make an effort. I just....well, I just got a bit lost along the way is all, like.....like being swept away by a big wave and everyone’s riding the crest of it and all I can manage is a mouthful of sand and seawater. All I want really is to do a few useful things without either my head or my computer blowing up.
So that's it really. Not really so much of a rant, just a bit of a tap on the wrist. I'll master it in the end. I was a signaller in the army for twenty-three years so I must be able to get something right. (LOOKS AT HIS WATCH) It's eight-thirty and Petra's long gone. Here I am back where I started. I've said my piece. Not sure if I'm any further down the road. Still feel like a stranger in a strange land. But you know what? (STANDS UP) My grandaughter tried teaching me what HTTP stands for but I've already made it my own. Obviously it means "Here's To The Pub." Make mine a pale ale. Cheers (SWITCHES OFF LAPTOP. GOES TO DARK)
WHY ARE WE HERE?
A FEMALE VICAR IN HER FORTIES. SHE HAS A ROBUST FACE. SHE LOOKS GRIM AND DETERMINED AS SHE SURVEYS HER AUDIENCE FOR A FEW MOMENTS.
Why are we here? I don't mean why are we here on this earth or what makes us tick. Those are questions best left for philosophers and poets. No, I mean why are we here in church on this fine Spring morning? Surely some of you have better things to do on a Sunday. Plant those runner beans in the garden, wash the car, take the kids for a run round the park perhaps. Maybe some of you will be glancing at your watches waiting for the Rose and Crown to open its hallowed doors.
Are we here to worship God as a Christian community, to learn from the teachings of Christ our saviour and endeavour in some small way to follow his example in our daily lives? To come together in fellowship with the holy gospels as our road map through life? Or do some of the congregation feel that it's something of a weekend chore, do your two hour penance and get a free pass through the gates of heaven? Maybe Sunday service is like a moral safety net…. Conscience appeased then it's off down the pub to get bladdered.
I'm sorry, all of you, if I seem a little harsh today. My apologies to those many brothers and sisters sitting here who continue to selflessly devote their time and energy in sustaining our community and helping those unable to help themselves. Sadly however, it has been brought to my attention that an incident occurred during the week which did not portray St Stephens in a good light. Some volunteer parishioners were gathered here going about church business when Peter, the beggar from the high street, came through the doors. Peter fell on hard times some years ago and he's survived only through the generosity of others. And last Thursday, he came into this church, our church, not to beg for food or money. All he wanted was to sit for a while and pray. To sit in silence in this sacred place and pray. And he also asked for a drink of water. And he was turned away. He was turned away!
This is a house of God. All are welcome. Anyone who is in need is especially welcome. We had the opportunity to show a fellow traveller seeking the light and guidance of the Lord some compassion, some generosity, something akin to the many examples set by Jesus. We could have bathed in God's grace for doing his bidding to his followers and the world; offer a helping hand to a man in need of spiritual sustenance. Instead, the doors to this sacred place, this shelter, were closed to him and even water, the very stuff of life, was denied him. Remember Matthew 5.42: "Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
(SHE SIGHS. LONG PAUSE) I was told that a parishioner said to the man “We don’t want your kind in here” and then he left. “Your kind.” I don’t even profess to understand what that means. Isn’t the whole notion of Us and Them the very antithesis of who we are? Didn’t Jesus ask us to love our brothers, our neighbours, even our enemies? Did he not walk among the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost? If, as a united parish, we’re unable to accept others who are adrift or in need of help then we are not truly united in our vision. In fact, it is we who are lost.
When you look at a man or woman and their appearance is fundamentally different from yours in one way or another, what you see and how you react is recorded in the eyes of God. The Creator knows your heart, he sees what you’re made of. Do you remember the words of Christ on the mount? “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Feed the poor and lift them when they’ve fallen or resort to petty tribalism and deny a searching soul a place to sit, shelter from the storm and, yes, even a drink of water.
I don’t mean to preach but you can’t get away from the fact that I am your preacher. (HALF SMILE) If I am to be shepherd of a flock then I’d rather some of the sheep didn’t go astray. I’ll finish with a story told to me by a friend of mine….
There was a beggar at a church door. He heard the congregation singing inside. As a young man in better times, he too had been part of a choir and still possessed a semblance of a rich tenor voice. As he approached the door, it was suddenly shut in his face. He knocked loudly on the church door to be allowed inside but the more he knocked, the louder the choir sang to drown him out. Disconsolate, he was about to turn away when he realised there was a man standing next to him. The man was about thirty, had a middle-eastern appearance and was wearing a robe and sandals. He hair was long and he had a beard. He looked kindly at the beggar, put his hand on the man’s shoulder and said “Don’t worry about it; I’ve been trying to get in there for years.”
Again, I ask you…why are you here?
IT'S NOT ME, IT'S YOU
A PERSONAL VIDEO FROM A LAPTOP IS SWITCHED ON. A WOMAN IN HER EARLY THIRTIES IS ON SCREEN. SHE IS WEARING A LOT OF MAKE-UP, HAS PAINTED EYEBROWS AND LARGE EARRINGS. SHE'S SERIOUS THROUGHOUT.
Paul, by the time you see this I won't be here. I've gone to Seville for a few days. Yes, I know we were planning to do this together but, you know, things change. I just needed a break from everything and….well, from you really. I’ve gone away with Luke, he’s one of the trainers at the gym. I know, what a cliché, right? Still, it could’ve been my karate teacher I suppose, I mean, he certainly knew how to pack a punch. (SMILES)
Paul, listen, I don’t want you getting all upset. The writing was on the wall if you really think about it. I mean, I saw it if you didn’t. I s'pose you want some long drawn out explanation don’t you? Well, I'm not like a counsellor who’s nearly down on her knees begging the two of them not to break up. It's been nearly two years we were ‘together’ and it was two years of hell as far as I'm concerned. Do I have to make a list? No, but I will anyway…..
I hate the way you gurgle your mouth after you’ve already brushed your teeth; I hate the way you always say Alicia Keyes is “derivative” and “synthetic”; I hate the fact that you actually listen to music from the 1970’s just like my dad and the way you both laugh at me about it like I’ve done something wrong; I hate that stupid silver belt you wear when you go to concerts (or “gigs” as you call them) thinking you’re still 22; I hate the way you end emails and texts with a double kiss – it really makes me cringe; I hate the way you eat marmite on toast as if it’s some sort of delicacy; I hate the way you won’t have a glass of wine with me and you’ll only drink your revolting ale; I hate the way you keep a photo of your mum in the lounge – she’s dead, Paul, get over it; I hate it that you won’t get an android upgrade even though the face on yours is totally cracked; I hate that beaten up old car you won’t get rid of because “it still goes” (Luke’s got an Audi A5); I hate you being a fan of ‘Game of Thrones’ with all those stupid zombies and dragons – maybe it’s about time you grew up; I hate the way you think you can sing and everyone goes on and on about you having this great voice even though I’ve got a great voice ‘cos all my friends tell me but you’ve never once said a thing; oh, and I really hate it when you tell me my friends are stupid and shallow – they’re not, they’re just like me.
So, as you can see, it isn’t me, it’s you. Obviously, by the time I’m back next Sunday, you won’t be here. I’m keeping the flat ‘cos Luke is going through a bit of a bad patch and he needs somewhere to stay…. though I doubt he’ll be spending much time in the spare room. We’re paid up for the month so Luke can stay here rent free for nearly three weeks. I know how much you hate waste, so I guess you ought to be pleased. It’s obvious which gear in the flat is yours – it’s all the crap so don’t forget to take everything you know I won’t want. I’ve withdrawn my share out of our joint account. Well, my fifty percent plus an extra twenty-five percent for all the trouble and bad habits and aggravation you put me through; in any case, we needed extra funds for Seville. What’s the point of a holiday if you can’t spend a bit?
So, that’s it. I’d say it’s been a fun couple of years but if you’d tried a bit harder to see things my way and not been so selfish, it wouldn’t have come to this. And if I never hear that ‘Game of Thrones’ tune again, I’ll be a very happy woman.
Look after yourself, Paul, I’m sure you’ll find someone else you can dote on without actually giving them anything.
There’s half a lasagne in the fridge.
Ta ta for now.
SHE REACHES FORWARD AND THE SCREEN TURNS TO BLACK.