Taking time

I used to stop watches. I thought I did, anyway. When I was a child the succession of small Timexes all did the same thing. They stopped.

A month, at most. For reasons too tedious to go into again, they never got sent back to the shop, now I suspect because that would haev meant explaining where the shop was, and more relevantly, in which drawer in whose house and why the receipt was. This is the kind of stuff you deal with when your father runs two parallel households without having the balls to explain to either one of them that’s what he’s doing.

Why is this relevant? Because I don’t like secrets. But I also don’t like waste, so when I was able to get some space in my head to get a watch that actually worked for more than about a month or so, I switched to mechanical watches. About ten years back I bought a Trias. They use Swiss movements and assemble them into complete watches in Germany. I wanted a watch that would last me my lifetime. That didn’t depend on a battery to go into landfill every year. Something worth having. Something sustainable that said something about the way I wanted to live.

I found it for £35 on Ebay. I didn’t believe it either. I was in Newcastle the first time a few months later and wanterd to replace the chunky studded strap and took it into a jewellers, a proper one that didn’t have to ‘send it off to the repariers, sir,” who were as interested in watches as I was. They flipped the back off it with easy practice and told me yes, it’s an ETA 2487 movement. £35? Well done! Which was nice.

But that was ten years ago and somehow I’ve forgotten to ever get it serviced so now it’s stopped. It can be fixed. That’s the whole point. A straightforward service, taking it apart, cleaning each tiny cog, oiling it with something a bit thinner than Three-In-One and it’ll be good for another ten years.

Except the service is going to cost £125 and I can get a new watch on Ebay for £85. Not with an ETA 2487 movement, admittedly. By a company associated with Brietling. Oh because I spend too much time ferreting these things out, obviously. Why do you ask?

But that’s the choice. Stick to your principles and pay more? Or do the semi-responsible thing and get another watch that’ll last ten years. Because the alternative of wearing the damnably indestructible bright yellow 16 year-old G-Shock on my wrist now isn’t really an all-occasions option. Baby.

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More Batteries Required

Some of my more long-suffering friends will be familiar with No Batteries Required. It started off as a joke in a pub.

Wouldn’t it be funny if a bankrupt chicken farmer kidnapped a celebrity chef? No, tell you what, it would be funnier if the chef had gone to school with the Prime Minister and he got kidnapped as well. And he could be at the farm to

No celebrity chefs were harmed in the production of this play.
No celebrity chefs were harmed in the production of this play.

give his old school chum a government job.

So it got wrote, got recorded, go edited and I sent the script off to Eastern Angles. I’d seen one of their productions done on Bentwaters airbase, near my house and I liked the play and the way they fixed on local stories and used local resources to tell them. The play was about an airman, one of the Americans who used to fly out of Bentwaters until it shut 20 years ago, and in parallel it was about the people who used to live here, in the next village over the other side of the base.

It got finished in May last year. We recorded it just before Christmas. I sent the script to Eastern Angles in January. I edited the recording in March.

I didn’t hear any more until this Thursday. Then I got an email.

I like the dialogue and the sheer bravura of the piece.

 

What does that even mean?

There are some words and phrases I’ve never bothered to find out exactly what they mean until very recently. Obviously it rarely stopped me from using them. Cartesian dualism, for example. Quantitative easing, which must never be

Ladeezangennelmen, swingin' this town tonight, it's Al Dente! Let's have a big hand!
Ladeezangennelmen, swingin’ this town tonight, it’s Al Dente!

confused with the kind of thing the Weimar Republic did, just creating money out of nowhere. Bravura was another one of those words. Like al dente, who I’d always presumed had a dance band in Philadelphia.

So apparently, according to an online dictionary because I’ve been too busy to get out of bed doing this re-write all day (well no, obviously I got out of bed to go to the bathroom and make some kedgeree and end up with faux chainsmoker Writers Fingers but in fact it’s just where I cleared up some spilt turmeric without a cloth,  oh and to get some wine, obviously) bravura means some really nice things according to the Oxford dictionary.

Great technical skill and brilliance shown in a performance or activity.

A display of great daring, except that wouldn’t wholly make sense in context.

Which was nice, as the saying goes, because that was an email from Eastern Angles, asking for a look at a proper stage version of the play that came in on Thursday. Needless to say I’d said there was a proper stage version ready. Needless to say, there wasn’t. So I had to get my finger out this weekend. Even if it was a curious shade of yellow.

Wish me luck.

 

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No Batteries Required

Listen to No Batteries Required here.

L1000449At the very end of 2012 I was siting in a pub talking to a man they call The Sausage King. I hadn’t wanted to ask for him by name in The Crown in Framlingham, but luckily I recognised him anyway. Which was something of a relief.

His hobby was and is sausages. For about ten years he’s been blogging about them before anybody else had. He rides a motorcycle around the countryside finding sausages and talking to people about them, writing books about them and making films about them. Because he does.

I’d had a food business and thankfully got rid of it before it got rid of me. Just. So we got talking, as you do, because although I came not to like or be much interested in the business, apart from getting rid of it, I’m extremely interested in food, where it’s come from and people who are interested in it. At the end of the second pint the bad thing happened. I had an idea. I’d known some stuff, as you do, the things I call the bones of the idea, the skeleton the meat hangs on.

The Bones

1) Battery cages for egg-laying chickens were banned on 1/1/2012. By March DEFRA, the government body that looks after farming, found that some chicken farmers weren’t complying with the law, so they set-up a special body to go and talk to them about why they should. If you try this with your road fund licence, saying that you don’t see why you should pay it and anyway you haven’t got enough money to buy one, then you get a criminal record and a fine. If you’re a farmer, DEFRA sets up a dedicated unit to explain the idea to you.

2) Kirsty Alsop was rumoured to be going to be made a government Minister by David Cameron if he won the election in 2010.

3) David Cameron and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall went to Eton and Oxford together.

Eton College class of 2000. I do not know anybody in the picture and resisted the temptation to make-up names like Oliver "Trumpy" Farlingaye-Bligh.
Eton College class of 2000. I do not know anybody in the picture and resisted the temptation to make-up names like Oliver “Trumpy” Farlingaye-Bligh.

4) Kirsty Alsop is Cath Kidston’s cousin. People like that know each other, one way or another. For a long time I used to know lots of people on the periphery of that world, which is one reason I sort-of-know-of-but-not-very-well lots of people, but not enough to be made a Cabinet Minister, unfortunately.

5) People in public office are well protected, however man-of-the-people they might appear to be. I remember being on a crowded commuter train in Blackheath Standard one morning with my face jammed into someone’s armpit. It didn’t smell. Much more scarily, it was hard with distinct edges. I didn’t ask to actually see the gun the big bloke in the nondescript suit was wearing, but I didn’t really think I needed to. He was like the man I talked to in the Sloaney Pony one evening back when the world was young, who looked like a librarian. Some girl had just been making fun of how boring he was and his dull job in the Civil Service before she swung her hips out onto the Green. He was in the Diplomatic Protection Group. Looking boring was his job. During the day there was a Sterling submachine gun under his mac.

The Idea

Wouldn’t it be funny if a chicken farmer went nuts because he was going broke and decided it was all Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fault so he’d go and shoot him? Wouldn’t it be funnier if he did that the same day the Prime Minister decided to go and make his old school chum Minister of Food? What would happen if that happened?

And the consequence was, of course, that you have to actually write the thing once you say you will.

So I did. It became No Batteries Required, a half-hour play for voices that was the only thing I’ve ever written that kept the same title it started off with. I wrote Act One and got stuck, then four months later did the other Four Acts in about a week.

I sent it to the BBC who didn’t want it, so I found some local actors who did and we recorded it by coincidence again at The Crown in Framlingham, in the middle of December 2015, the day I was moving house. It wasn’t the best timing.

Then the difficult part, the sound editing. I didn’t have anyone to do it for me and like any of these things the first one is the worst and most challenging, because there’s a lot to learn. Even the most basic things in editing seem like huge hurdles until somehow, some time, you suddenly can’t remember when you couldn’t do them, or what all the fuss was about.

There are some things about the recording that can’t be fixed, because it was done on an iPhone (surprisingly good recording quality on those things, in fact) but we hadn’t thought to put it on airplane mode, so although the ringer was put on silent when a call did come in that next-to-the-radio dippada-dippada-dippada dip noise is all over the recording if you listen for it.

No celebrity chefs were harmed in the production of this play.
No celebrity chefs were harmed in the production of this play.

I used several tracks to record the different sounds and voicesand some are mixed too loud and some too soft. I sorted out most of  the times I clipped words too shortbut there are probably still some there and there is rubbish left over at the very, very end of the recording after a two-minute silence. Other than that it’s fabulous.

Now I have to try to edit it again.

The PIN code was the funny thing. I made-up the least likely thing I could think of, the idea that when you’re stressed out of your head being attacked by terrorists and as the security services have all been privatised you’d have to remember not just a special phone number to dial but a PIN as well. A friend in the police read it through for accuracy and looked at me a bit oddly, even for someone in the police.

“How did you know about the PIN number?’

Apparently it’s not really secret secret, but it was odd that I knew about it. I didn’t guv. It’s a fit-up. It’s all porkies, like most of the stuff I write. And I’ve got to turn this into a screenplay now if that will be all, officer, because Cascade Studios said they want a look at it. Which is nice.

Chickens seem to be in the news at the moment. Or French porn movies anyway, which is arguably better.

Listen to No Batteries Required here.

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The play what I wrote

Hugely flatteringly if that’s a thing, people are actually listening to No Batteries Required on Soundcloud. I only put it up yesterday.

A Songs Without Music production.
A Songs Without Music production.

If you’ve got 34 minutes to spare you can listen too. It’s an everyday story of country folk, mostly, with some odd and debatably funny things in it.

Without giving away the ending, or the location of the Prime Minister’s tattoo (for security purposes, of course) it’s about a farmer and a celebrity chef. The funny things happened when I was writing it. I’d been thinking about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who screamingly funnily becomes Pew Farley-Toherstall for the purposes of the play. So far so so. But he really did go to school and then up to Oxford with David Cameron. And if not even David Cameron would be bonkers enough to make Jeremy Clarkson Minister for Transport, there were certainly very strong rumours that Kirsty Alsop was going to be offered a Ministerial post prior to 2010 and turned it down. And she really is Cath Kidston’s cousin. And her daddy really was chairman of Christies. So you can make your own judgement about her career progression dahn the auctions, as she almost certainly doesn’t say unless she’s very drunk indeed.

For me the funniest thing was the pin number on the Prime Minister’s emergency phone. I gave this script to several people to have a look at it before we recorded. A solicitor friend so that the caution was correct, when Tom is at the police station. An actual police sergeant, for some of the procedural stuff. She said she hadn’t been on a firearms job but it sounded about right. Funny. She liked it. Just one thing.

I hate it when a police person says ‘just one thing.’

‘How did you know about the PIN number?’

It’s not really officially secret, she said, but you’re not really supposed to know about it.

And the honest answer is, I didn’t. I made it up. It was the most ridiculous thing I could think of, the most British procedural thing I could imagine, the thing you’d be most likely to forget under stress, which would be the only time you’d need it.

So it’s a fair cop, guv. You’ve got me bang to rights. I’m done up like a kipper. But I ain’t got previous and it was the voices made me do it.

And as she said, in the best Jack Reagan tradition before I poured her some more wine: ‘Shut it.

 

 

 

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Dealing with rejection

Despite the fact that it’s St Valentine’s Day and once again, I am officially Less Attractive Than Hitler (Hitler had a girlfriend), the kind of rejection I was thinking of or at least I was until I had to think about that was the kind of rejection that goes like this:

Not in my schloss.
He was right up her strasse, apparently.

We received nearly 2900 scripts, (Why do so many people send us all this crap? I mean, honestly!)

and our team of readers have been working intensively to sift through all submissions. Like rarely, thanks for nothing, yah? We very nearly missed something interesting to do, rather than what we’re paid for every month.

Our readers were asked to consider what the opening of each script demonstrated about the writer’s voice and originality, their understanding of medium, form, genre and tone, and the strength of the world, story, characters and dialogue. Yours was obviously unoriginal and your world frankly isn‘t as good as ours. 

Unfortunately, your script did not progress beyond the first 10-page sift which was the case with 85% of all submissions we received. Your unoriginal derivative pile of identikit characters, seen-it-before stories and less-than-credible dialogue was dumped along with all the stuff from all the other losers on the first read through .This means that your script will therefore not be considered further and will not receive any other feedback. This means your script was crap.

We hope you will not be too disappointed or discouraged; we appreciate it will be frustrating not to receive specific feedback. This does not mean that your script has no potential – rather, that the standard of the work that did progress was very high, yours wasn’t and we can only focus on the necessarily small proportion of work that most captured our attention and imagination. Maybe you could read it out at a village fete or something. Or a childrens party, so long as they’re not too old or discriminating. 

It’s a rejection slip, or a rejection e-mail, anyway.

Compared to some of the non-Valentine rejections I’ve had in the past, quite mild. No throwing stuff. No slammed doors. No going around with that bloke I always had an idea about half an hour later. Nobody’s relations on the phone, no screamy phone calls and no silent weeping, on either side. In comparison there’s almost a thread of logic there, which is a refreshing change given the usual lack of anything apart from the central no-part-of-your-body-is-welcome-in-or-frankly-all-that-near-any-part-of-mine-notwithstanding-any-prior-events logic that accompanies the non-Valentine-type rejection. In my experience, anyway.

This one was from the BBC. I won the BBC Writers Room Screenplay competition last year (M/f as we used to say in journalist college. It means More Follows. I think you’re confusing it with something with more letters.) so I thought I’d send them No Batteries Required, written for radio.

It’s actually really rather good. Even people who take a very let’s say “objective” view of my charm, wit and sophistication say that. At volume, sometimes. The bits about my CW&S, at least.

But the BBC don’t want it. But they want submissions for The Show What You Wrote, their new BBC Radio 4’s comedy sketch show – written by you. Free, obviously.

“This is an opportunity for you to get involved in creating a show that sounds different from any other sketch show out there. The Show What You Wrote is open for anyone to enter, whatever your level of experience. If you have a good idea then write it up and send it to us.
The themes for each episode are:
1) Science and Nature
2) Geography
3) Art and Literature
4) Sport and Leisure

 

I would. I really would, but this rejection thing has made me wonder. I mean, the BBC comedy bar is set pretty high. It’s going to be pretty hard to beat the Today programme, putting Lord Lawson, whose scientific credentials include being a reporter for the Financial Times and er, that’s it really,  against actual climate change scientists and saying that makes the programme balanced. It makes it the fat bloke in the subsidised bar four pints in against someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Although to be fair, while he doesn’t know any more about what makes it blow than anyone else, like a true Thatcherite daughter of her father Nigella Lawson certainly knows how much blow costs. And suddenly, I don’t mind that particular rejection at all.

The Less Attractive Than Hitler thing, that I do mind. Still. Shower, shave and get out there to do another open mic and another one on Sunday. It might work. Worth a shot, anyway.

 

Oh and the red type? That was revealed using my patented iMean™ app. I use it regularly. Want to borrow it?

 

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Year End

IMG_1648A bit like the end of term round-up, this post. If I was marking up 2013 though, I’d have to have a word with its parents and note ‘must try harder’ on its report.

What did I do this year? Some of the things I set out to do. Got rid of my house. Re-homed most of the chickens. Won the BBC Writers Room competition. Did I mention that? Oh. Ok. Well, actually, I won the BBC Writers Room competition.

With a screenplay based on my book, Not Your Heart Away, which I also finished and published this past year.

Wrote some poems.  Got a radio show. Wrote No Batteries Required, about a bankrupt chicken farmer who decides to kidnap a celebrity chef the same day the Prime Minister he was at school with goes to offer him a job as Minister of Food.

Anything else? Quite a lot. Tried to help. Lost my heart. Found it again. Put it in trust for someone who might appreciate it. Tried to stop acting like an arse quite as much as I managed to do for several months this year. Vowed to listen more and decide less. Walked a lot. I liked that. Took some decent photos. Got a new house to live in, that I think is nicer than the one I moved out of. Saw some old friends, made some old friends (no, not like that), caught up with some old friends and realised how fantastically valuable they are when you need them.

Tried to write School Lane, a story that started in Not Your Heart Away, a story about an old man who had been a young boy when he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, like almost every other small boy in Germany. And I couldn’t do it. Maybe I can next year. It became too complex, too involved, too much about Janni Schenck, the boy whose teacher beat him and his classmates up to stop them being killed by the American patrol coming to their village. Janni’s story expanded to include the Edelweiss Pirates, which meant I had to get him from Hamburg where they hung out to a small village in the mountains, where the real story, the one I heard from an old man in a pub long ago now was set, which was a story in itself.

And alarmingly, bought an electro-acoustic ukelele to do an open-mic 1940s crooner set comprising Fools Rush In, The Nearness of You and either Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens or How Much Do I Love You. Maybe. Or April Played The Fiddle. That bit might need some work. Like learning the ukelele for a start. And it’s sung impossibly high for me. I could do it fine when I was fourteen. Can’t do it now.

So this year coming, 2014 is a new start. New house. A new heart and some new friends.  See you there.

 

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No Batteries Required

It all started in a pub. You know that thing when you have that one drink too many to stop talking and everything you say is brilliant and witty and just so incredibly fascinating you can’t help wondering why anyone bothers saying anything else ever again?

That’s what happened to me in a pub in Framlingham in about November, I think. That’s how I ended-up writing a radio play. Wouldn’t it be funny, no, wouldn’t it be just so incredibly amusingly funny, no listen, if a bankrupt chicken farmer tried to kidnap Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because he blames him for the battery chicken ban? Yes, thank-you, I will. Not driving, after all. It’s because of the you know, the battery chicken cage ban in January 2012. And DEFRA having to set-up a special squad because lots of farmers couldn’t be bothered to obey the law and the police didn’t think they ought to upset farmers who don’t reckon laws apply to them anyway, if the way farm vehicles are driven around here is anything to go by.

So maybe also the Prime Minister is visiting Hugh to make him Minister of Food, just the way he was supposed to be thinking of making the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp a Minister a few years back. Jolly fine gal. Right sort of background to run a democracy. The idea about the Prime Ministerial tattoo that shows up on thermal imaging rifle sights was mine though.

I got stuck with it while I was finishing Not Your Heart Away and got back to it yesterday. It’s odd. I’ve had problems writing things for years, never able to quite get down to it. That’s still a problem but when I do it just flows nowadays. It’s the sitting down to it that’s the issue. I had to change HF-W’s name, obviously, but that was pretty much the hardest part.

So it’s done, edited, a friend who is firm but fair is checking it to see if it makes her laugh (first bit has so far, only problem being that wasn’t the funny bit) and then it’s being broadcast in Suffolk and it’s also going off to the BBC.

Let’s see what happens.

 

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