Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: The Failed Writer

Watching & Dreaming (1)

This story starts, somewhat unexpectedly, at a car boot sale.

Car boot sales are not, you see, likely places for stories to begin. Quite the contrary, car boot sales are where stories go to end, where the unwanted entrails and detritus of life are paraded in a muddy field as drizzle and a light fog roll in like old hookers looking for one last, undoubtedly dry, job. They’re inherently depressing places.

In the back of one man’s rusting Ford Sierra is a box marked clothes with the price ambitiously set at £1. Closer inspection reveals that the whole box is now, after sitting in the damp for the best part of 3 hours on a shitty Saturday morning, available for £1 and not simply a single item. The box is opened and inside are jumpers, a range of old, worn, tired jumpers.

But the jumpers were not coming home today, partly because, well, he had enough jumpers, particularly damp jumpers, and secondly that buying them would break the cardinal rule of car boot sales. There are, you see, three basic rules of the car boot sale.

Rule one, never pay the asking price, pretty simple that one, after all we’re dealing in unwanted shit here rather than Faberge Eggs.

Rule two, the only point it’s acceptable to pay asking price is for an actual Faberge Egg. Or something clearly of great value. To show a respect for the seller that will dissipate when you appear on the Antiques Roadshow and it’s valued astronomically high and they get in touch to ask for a cut.

Finally never buy clothing. Or fabrics. The problem with fabrics and particularly clothing is – they never had a good story attached to them. If he’d picked up the box of jumpers and returned home he’d be swiftly informed by his better half that only two things had ever occurred while they were being worn, option one, death, not clearly ideal, and two, reckless masturbation. He’d never thought to question the phrasing of reckless masturbation, after all, his better half as she frequently introduced herself, was, and this she said was a fact, never wrong. Clearly the reckless nature make a simple boil wash with extra Ariel Ultra just not an option.

Next to the rusty Sierra was an older lady with a small car, smaller dog and a fearsome look. As he approached, still being slightly cajoled by the Jumper seller to buy his wank clothes of death, she looked him up and down and stepped forward slightly, “you look with your eyes”, she stated in no uncertain terms, clearly unaware of the primary function of eyes and also the relative attractiveness of her wares. She was clearly in the midst of divorce and seemed to be largely selling off things that she’s previously devoted much time to but he, as he stepped out the door had said looked like “ornamental crap”. The husband as it happens had finally had enough of the soul crushing mundane routine of his life and had decided that, after accidentally breaking the china leg of a china model of a ballet dancer from Italy but ironically made in Korea that had caused his wife to have a meltdown and scream at him, that life could be more than this. He was wrong as it turned out, as he shouted, left the house, walked triumphantly into the road and was promptly hit by a bus and killed instantly.

Fear Of Flying – 3

Simon had never been a big fan of change.

He liked the safety of knowing what was happening when, consistency and a  timetabling of his life that bordered on obsessive. He wouldn’t feel terrible if change occurred, it’s just he tended to shy away from it, someone who’d never throw away a sock with holes because he knew exactly how the material felt underfoot – and besides it felt like such a waste when 95% of the sock was in full working order.

He knew what he liked as well. Spending his younger years with brief bouts of near wildness he’d mastered the essentials of taste and preference. He was a fan of log fires but not coal fires, pies without excessively thick pastry and any pudding involving the keywords sponge, syrup and custard. He disliked fried mushrooms, olives and cream cakes. He was a espresso not a latte man, a ciabiatta rather than baguette, and tables and chairs rather than sofas. There was something reassuring about the consistency the world dealt him, the people he recognised, the part of the station platform he usually stood on, the entire lack of change or incidence. For a long time the closest he came to breaking from his comfortable cycle was in his daydreams, most of which involved the girl from the platform and a vague warm feeling associated with the term ‘happily every after’.

While the suicide that had happened in front of him had come as a surprise, after all it’s not often a man steps in front of a train less than 3 seconds after talking to you, what had followed and indeed his current situation was, as far as Simon was concerned, stranger still.

The aftermath of the old man’s death had passed in, what seemed to Simon, a stark light, a mood nearly, it felt like he was stepping out of a haze. The screams and screeching of brakes had faded into the background. The driver of the train had stepped down to see the body lying in front of his cab. The old man had been hit at speed, but rather than his body rupturing, spilling out over the tracks, he had been lifted through the air, carried to a final resting place some twenty foot in front of the now stationary engine. It’s one thing to see a man killed by a train, it’s another to see a man killed and his body tossed through the air like a failed attempt at long jump.

People looked away, mentioned to other people to look away too before casting a glance at the deceased man with morbid curiosity. He was bloodied, he’d turned slightly as the train hit him smashing the back of his skull but leaving his face intact. He’d landed on his back, and there he lay, a wistful smile still on his face. If it weren’t for the pool of blood, vomiting passengers and ripped clothing you’d swear he’d died happy.

He’d been killed instantly of course, the station master had taken control, police had arrived and statements had been taken. It was while the statements were being taken that the police, and particularly a sprightly and efficient (if tactless) young officer had noticed how little such a moderate collection of people had managed to see of this tragic incident.

The driver anticipating the collision had closed his eyes, station master had covered his eyes with his hand containing salt temporarily blinding himself, the business men had been too absorbed by the business of the day, while the large woman with the dog had caught the incident in her peripherals only. Several others in the crowd had been lacking glasses, focus, or awareness leaving only two witnesses to the full extent of the tragedy, a young man, Simon, and an attractive woman.

Several hours of interviews had taken place, footage from CCTV examined, and backgrounds checked at the local police station, and some six hours later, story validated, noted and details taken, Simon had, entirely unexpectedly found himself sat next to the woman of his dreams outside an interview room.

Fear Of Flying – 2

The old police officer’s morning had been, he could safely say, pretty poor.

He’d not slept well the previous night and had awoken in a cold house with ice on the insides of the window to see his frosty breath in front of him. The previous day had been stressful, the temperature plunging as snow fell and one by one minor disasters occurred.

Cars colliding leading to angry confrontations over braking and accusations of gender related incompetence mediated by him, stepping between lions ready to rip each other’s throats out for minor damage to elderly looking vehicles. Water mains had iced up, blockages causing leaks, leaks causing floods, floods causing black ice sheets and black ice sheets causing more of the public to lose their head and develop a fury rarely seen. Later, in middle-of-the-road suburbia a tree had fallen cutting electricity supplies for the day, the unfortunate inhabitants of three streets left without electricity, in torturous cold.

The cold had claimed a casualty that day, though it would be never attributed that way, a victim of chance and an unfortunate chain of events. The call had come through, an old woman, passed away in her chair clutching the photo of a loved one, could they come quickly. There had been no need for speed, she’d passed away hours earlier, a combination of extreme cold, sleep and old age. The heating was on again when they arrived, shown through the door by an elderly man whose voice cracked and crumbled, pain spread through his face.

The clocks had been the giveaway, digital readouts reset to 12am, flashing. She’d gone to sleep, an afternoon nap, while her husband, in three piece suit, went to work for the final time. He was to retire that very day, over forty years working for the same corporation, every day the same routine, every day moving towards that retirement when he would come home and stay home. She’d been a teacher and had retired first, afflicted by bouts of arthritis rarely seen in a woman her age, and had concentrated on happiness, her own and that of her husband. Each morning he’d kiss her on the cheek and leave for the day, she’d pick up a book and read on the porch in summer and by the electric fire in winter. At noon she would rise and, as was customary for her on a Monday, eat soup. She ate soup on a Monday because it was soup day, she felt no need for change as change to her when you’re already blissfully happy seemed quite unnecessary. After lunch she’d settle in her favorite chair and nap, just for an hour, or perhaps two, waking up to see crystals of snow on the window sill, dressing warmly, taking her stick and walking the ten minutes to meet her husband from the train. That Monday though she was not to wake.

The body had been taken away and the officer had left the elderly man with a cup of tea, sat contemplating what would happen next. The police officer had wanted to stay, be supportive, offer a listening ear, but well, that wasn’t what the police were for, and besides, he was sure the man would prefer his own company. Instead he had passed the man his business card and told him to pop it in his wallet and that if he needed anything just to give a call, although ideally in business hours. That would help surely.

He’d returned home to find his home too without power, and mindful of the death he’d seen piled spare duvets, blankets and throws on top of himself to prevent a similar fate. It had, however, had an unfortunate side effect, around three in the morning, drowning in sweat, he’d woken up with a body akin to being in a sauna and an errant hand that had got free turning blue in the cold. He woke, therefore when his alarm chimed at 6am, some three hours after he had managed to get to sleep, in not the best spirits. His spirits had been further eroded when, arriving to the police station he’d been informed of a suicide at the local station and he was to supervise the cleanup.

As he strode down the platform a junior officer approached him, pushing past a large woman with a dog, and three business men who, he noticed, smelled decidedly of urine.

We keep finding bits of him” the junior officer panted, clearly overjoyed to be working on a case that didn’t involve lecturing schoolchildren on the dangers of throwing snowballs at oncoming traffic and running cycling proficiency.

“Pretty cut and shut if you ask me” he continued, “Suicidal, someone must have driven him to it.”

The old police officer often wondered what was taught at policing academy now, cycling proficiency certainly, interview techniques definitely  but not tact.

“Did anyone see the incident?” he enquired.

“Just two people sir, the tall man and, her, the woman in the hat. Everyone else looked away it seems, didn’t quite have the right angle to see everything unfold. They were pretty clear, he stepped out in front of the train on purpose, wanted it over I guess.”

The old police officer sighed, looking around from the dispursing people to the stack of paperwork in the officer’s hand, terrible at tact yet brilliant at paperwork, statements signed and dated, an incident noted.

“Oh there was one other thing” the junior officer paused before continuing, “he had one of your business cards in his wallet.”

It would be no ordinary Tuesday.

Fear Of Flying – 1

This story starts, as all good stories must, on a Tuesday.

At a railway station, waiting for the working week to begin with a torturous journey to the city centre, the morning passengers are assembling in the same way they had for the preceding days, weeks, months, years and in one case decades. In their heavy winter coats they arrive, nodding at those they recognise, moving into the relative shelter as the snow swirls around them they mournfully anticipate another week of disappointment, bitterness and occasional sociopathic thoughts.

Simon stands among the gathering throng, shivering against the cold, watching his fellow travelers scowling, complaining about the long week ahead and the brevity of the weekend past.

The station is small, a commuter conduit to the inner city, the middle of homologous,  middle-of-the-road suburbia. The double tracks are covered with a thin coating of freshly laid snow while on the platform the shuffling feet of the assembling throng break the perfectly laid topping and create icy patches of well trodden ground. The branches of the trees surrounding the station are heavy, drooping, threatening to unload on the unsuspecting people below, while on the opposite platform the station manager shovels clear any danger and spreads a liberal throw of chunky brown salt on the ground.

The silence is blissful, but for the occasional bout of birdsong or crunch of ice underfoot there is a peace in this gathering.

Simon looks around, to his left is a young girl in her mid twenties, she would be attractive but for the thick layer of makeup caking her face, her brown hair and brown eyes rendered mute alongside her dark brown spray tanned skin. She switches on her music player, and from her headphones perfectly audible thumping bass underscores the scene attracting disapproving glances from her fellow travellers – particularly a large woman with her small dog who mouths expletives before looking away. The girl however is unaware of this, or the fact that in three years time she will have 60% hearing loss, and mouths the words to angry songs out of key and time.

To her left are three identikit businessmen. In heavy overcoats they stand reading the financial forecasts of the day, well-groomed men of business they flick through the orange pages, shaking their head at stocks and equities, occasionally sighing at the news contained within. They in turn are unaware of the large woman’s small dog gently urinating behind them, splashing their trouser legs as they are each individually marked. Nor are they aware than in three months time a catastrophic stock market collapse will cause their company to fold, forcing them to accept that reading the financial section of the paper every morning had little relation to them being able to control their destinies.

Beyond the spray tan girl, soon to be unemployed businessmen, urinating dog and large woman now pulling the dog discreetly away is a woman in her early thirties stood with a thick padded coat, dark-grey fur  hat and brown leather satchel. Her hair flows out from the side of the hat’s ear flaps, blowing in the wind, her light blue eyes dancing over the pages of a travel book she is reading.

Simon watches her as he had done for the preceding five years.

He imagining speaking to her, the witty comments he’d make, how he’d make her laugh, how the hair would blow in her face and he’d move it away, how they’d talk about music, art and literature, the times they would share, happy and sad, but together, he’d imagine how they would fall utterly in love.

This was, however, nothing but idle fantasy, he had never even stood next to her, let alone spoken to her, so with a heavy heart and sense of yearning unfulfilled he turned away. For now she was unaware of his affections, unaware of him and equally unaware of of her future and where it might lie.

“You should talk to her” a voice beside him said.

A old man in a dark grey three piece suit, heavy black over coat and brown suitcase stood beside him, checking a pocket watch briefly before turning to address again. Simon recognised him, the man was always at the station at the same time as him, always stood in the same place, always checked his pocket watch and always remained silence and tight lipped. Until today, this Monday he had chosen to speak.

“Every morning I come here, and each morning you stare at that girl, nearly five years now” staring Simon straight up with slightly red eyes the slight rumble of a train approaching echoing in the distance.

“I’m sorry” Simon replied, slightly taken aback by this change in social convention thrust upon him, thrown off balance by unusually timed conversation. 

“I wasn’t staring…”

“My wife died last night” the man continued cutting him off, a wistful smile half-heartedly crossing his face.

“I loved her every day of the last fifty years, from the day i first saw her on this very platform, to the day we first talked five years later, to when we married a year after that.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that…” Simon stuttered.

“And after that moment, everyday I would go to work and my heart would be heavy because I would be away from her, and everyday when I got off this train she would meet me and life would mean something. And I had happiness, great happiness.”

He paused momentarily, casting his eyes from Simon to the floor and then back again.

Last night I got home, stepped off the train and she wasn’t there.”

The train was closing in now, the track throbbing with changes in pressure and weight, vibrations, tiny at first passing through the rails, a metallic sound of oncoming speed. The man gripped Simon’s hand, his skin thin, eyes tired, hair grey and voice shaking, shivering in the winter air.

“So I walked home and found her, asleep on her chair, asleep. Asleep but cold, holding a picture of us together, a smile on her face, she’d gone in her sleep…”

His voice was cracking now, the train visible in Simon’s peripheral vision, the old man’s eyes gleamed, sadness and joy filling them simultaneously.

I’ve had forty five years of perfect happiness, forty five year of joy, of love, pure love. And it started here. Every time I stand here at the station and see you stare at that girl it reminds me of how lucky I was.”

Simon could no longer feel the cold, he felt blood pumping in his ears, adrenaline pumping, the man gripped him – in any other context with any other man it might have seemed aggressive, terrifying even, but in this moment, this man, he seemed calm, calm but insistent.

The train started braking, squealing as it gradually slowed.

“And it’s that, that opportunity, the chance of perfection, I want you to have.”

And as the train closed in the man released his arm, turned, adjusted his tie, stroked the falling snow from his jacket and stepped from the platform in front of the moving train.

The station master shouts, the large woman screams, the business men look away and the old man stares straight back at Simon as the train hits him at speed.

That would be no ordinary Monday.

Work In Progress – Part 1

Hello! I’m abandoning football commentary to put some new writing up. I’ve been writing a show to record and then put out as a free podcast. So here’s the first 5 pages… See what you think! Incidently I should mention I’ve not looked at spelling and grammar and it’s written as it is to be performed not read! Cheers – Comments at the bottom!


When I was 15 I read ‘1984’.

We were in English, English Literature, the start of our final year of secondary school, after that out into the real world, a world of excitement and fun, free from rules about corridor walking, blazer wearing and workbook covering. No more pedantic rules and pointless regulations breaking us down from savages into responsible members of society.

We would soon escape, carefree and happy.

It was October, an unseasonally cold October, and, four weeks into the new term, the 1950s classrooms with their tall single glazed windows were cold, freezing cold. Ice gathered on the inside of the glass, shoes squelched from autumn rain and the sniffs and coughs of teenage flu flowed invisibly throught the air. In the morning you’d pretend to smoke the vapour on your breath, while in the afternoon, radiators stoked to burning, the scent of teenage body odours, Lynx Africa and damp shoes would waft down the corridors.

The teacher came in from the stock cupboard, a cardboard box filled with yellowing well-leafed books, inscribed with messages from past readers, ‘Miss G sucked off Mr F’, ‘Amy L for John D’ or ‘Simon P is a bumder,’all spelt wrong, accompanied by illustrations of mis-shapen ejaculating dicks with hairy balls and smiley one-eyed faces.

The teacher, ‘Miss Richardson’, married for over 25 years and still regretting becoming a teacher handed out the battered, grease-stained books as the class murmured its disapproval.

New doodles were started, new incriptions made, old inscriptions modified and updated, spellings incorrectly corrected.

Cries of dismay in broad accents echoed around the room.

“Looks shit miss”

“How many pages!?!”

“Mine’s missin’ pages”

I looked down at the sorry-looking booking on my desk, it was the book that was to change my life, ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

I’d never been a book person up until that point, I was a comic man. I devoured comics. Heroes beating up villains, good overcoming evil, tight costumes showing every ripple of muscle and breast. Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, and when noone was looking Wonderwoman.

I also loved TV, even though it was rubbish, five channels, with the fifth, never spoken about in our household, filled with pornography, football and Nazi stories, often in disturbing combination and rationed like a precious commodity by my parents.

I loved watching them, Jimmy Saville encouraging teenage smoking and shellsuits, Terry Wogan humouring dancing drunks and middle aged women, Anneka Rice encouraging guilty masturbation, Jason & Kylie – who’d have thought it’d never last – the stars of television.

I imagined what their lives must be like, travelling in first class, singing duets on the plane, scores of adulating fans blowing kisses, a camera following me at bottom height whenever I have to run anywhere.

I wanted it, I wanted to be a hero, I wanted to be on TV, to have the glamour, to chat to Terry, laugh at his jokes.

I’m not proud of this – I imagined being a guest on Noel’s House Party.

I was not a book person.

But at that point I found a book that connected with me, excited me, thrilled me and exploded in my imagination.

I imagined Winston’s life, a double life, covertly fighting against the party, a force for good, a force for creativity, peace and love in a grey concrete world under grey concrete skies, undermining the system while shagging Julia in the woods.

I imagined I could be the one to break it down, to overcome adversity, break Big Brother, free my common man, like Winston Smith. A hero.

Of course I never finished the book.

I left it after the sex scene.

I flicked through the final chapters, skirting over the plot for more tittilation.

It was before the internet,

TV was five channels and one was strictly off limits.

The frozen classrooms of October got colder and colder as winter passed into spring. My sixteenth birthday was accompanied by food poisoning, vomitting late into the night, prawns and part-digested salmon littering my pillow.

I had always imagined sixteen would be the age where, upon becoming a man my life would fall into place; I’d suddenly feel comfortable around women, beer would develop a flavour that wouldn’t make me cringe and curse, facial hair would develop from random indescriminate wisps into a moustache of Tom Selleck proportions and, ideally, I’d have been bitten by a radioactive spider.

However teenage body odour and greasy skin complimented by wet look hair gel trailed me like a stalker and, while I discovered jeans for the first time, I combined this with a belief that vivid orange clothing made me quirky and desireable.

Disappointment at school turned to sexual disappointment at college. Sexual disappointment at college led to an unforfilling admin job in a paper warehouse on an industrial estate with nine bitter overweight middle age men and the office totty, a receptionist in her late 50s wearing deep layers of makeup to hide her emerging seams.

The admin department had three of us, myself, the Junior Admin Assistant; the lowest of the low, on a par with unemployed, prisoner and English Lit graduate.

In five to ten years I might become an Admin Assistant, with an extra five hundred pounds in my pocket and a dependency on low grade pornography and kebabs. In a mere twenty I could be a department head, earning nearly two grand more for longer hours spent staring suicidally at my desk stapler every day wondering how many staples it would take to put me out of my misery.

Sadly both these job prospects relied not on skill, ability or training, but instead the premature death of one of my colleagues.

John and Marty, or Big John and McFly as they were known around the firm, had been with the company for twelve and ten years respectively.

John, carrying five stone too much on his stumpy frame, wore large steel framed glasses, yellowing white shirts and comedy ties to prove he wasn’t as dull as he was. He spoke with an undefined north-west accent, the type that cut through silence like a rampaging bull, impaling, goring and destroying any sense of tranquility. He wanted ‘Britain for Brits’ and insisted the ‘the EU, EU right, destroys out good this county ever had’ while hating political correctness and the ‘liberal poofter left.’ He was The Daily Mail personified, and, having been recently divorced, insisted on imparting advice about women, or as he described ‘them snakes and vipers’.

‘Women’ he’d say. ‘Women’, he’d repeat slightly louder, he had problems starting sentences with conviction. ‘Women will suck you dry, not like a blow job or out, suck your soul out, bleed you. I mean they look good on the outside with their tits and arses and legs and tits, but stick with ’em long enough, they’ll break your heart, break it. Like cream cakes.’

John had a habit of relating everything to food since the divorce, ‘they look tasty, they look nice on shelf, granted they taste sweet and when y’have one y’want more, but they’ll fuck you in the end, mark my words, further down the line, they’ll fuck you with cholesterol and that there blood pressure.’

At this point, McFly would interrupt. Until this point he’d have been preoccupied with shredding photos of family members or stapling his hand, then he’d click, ‘Fuck ’em all’.

McFly, named after Back To The Future was the spitting image of the stranger your parents worried about when you were a kid. He looked like Santa’s dirty unfriendly brother who’d made it his life’s work to appear as creepy as possible. From the old leather jacket, to the incessant scratching that released plooms of body odour and sprinklings of body dandruff across his desk, from where it was whisked by a desk fan into my face, causing contortions as I tried to avoid vomiting, he was the nightmare scenario co-worker.

He was a regular to the nightclubs, standing in the corner, staring at eighteen year old girls in short skirts and low-cut tops, fingering the Rhohepnol in his pocket.

Once when he returned from holiday, he discovered his stapler had gone missing, prowling the building he ended up at my desk where he pronounced, ‘whatever cunt has taken my stapler, I will find you, I will find you and I will fucking kill you.’

I later hid the stapler in his desk drawer and prayed he’d meet a sticky end at his own hand.

Sadly I suspect he did.

I’d been there nearly a year when it happened. I woke up one morning like normal, shower, shit, shave, into the wardrobe, clean shirt. It was at that point I paused, and as I paused there, I stared at my ties wondering which would make me more interesting.

I’d love to say that was the moment I knew things had to change. I’d love to say that I walked into work that fateful day, put my tie through the shredder, stamped on the stapler and proclaimed like a hero that I was departing in search of action, in search of adventure, in search of adversity. I’d love to say I left that very day, stormed out, people looking at me saying, he’s a maverick, a firebrand, the office totty looking at me with lust from her withened dried lips.

However it was not to be

Fast-forward three years and I am sat in the same office willing the laser printer to injure me when, in the newspaper, an advert.

 

‘Need a change of scene?

Need to escape the 9-5?

Want to change your life forever?’

 

I read it and I thought yes, I need a change of scene, I need to escape the 9-5, my life needs a change.

 

The advert was for Big Brother.

It was perfect.

 

Everyone’s seen it, Big Brother, people locked together, people you would never want to meet in real life mostly, observed from every angle with an omnipotent voice to guide them, a sarcastic geordie to judge them and a fitness DVD star to put them out of their misery.

Maybe you’ve watched a series obsessively, dipped in and out, cast judgement on them, read the tabloid articles, placed bets on them, described which you’d most and least like to shag, rung the hotline to save your favourite, followed the kiss and tells, the cheating ex’s, talked about rumours of blowies under the duvets, stayed up late in the hope of a sighting of an uncensored nipple or kinky sex.

You might even remember a few of the people on it. Everyone remembers a few, the cheats, the whores, the creeps, all with their labels, going to the diary room, confessing their inner most feelings to a blank wall and millions of viewers.

The nasty one, the stupid one, the stutterer, tirets, the one who looked a bit like Paris Hilton.

You might even remember me.

Writer’s Block (is back…)

So here it is, again, it follows me around like rain clouds stalk cricket matches, like my good friend attracts impossibly drunk women, like Jazz is followed by an involuntary nod of the head and an occasional tap on the knee – yes, writers block is back and this time it means business. This has a habit of happening everytime I write a show. The last time I wrote something slightly successful, Revenge, way back in the mid-naughties (that’s how I spell it), I then didn’t write anything half decent for the next 3 years… Yep, ouch.

The problem stems, I think, from the writers I admire: Alan Ayckbourn, Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson and more. They all churn work out on a bi-annual basis. I fail to have a new idea on a bi-annual basis. Ayckbourn has written over 70 plays, Stewart Lee manages new shows annually (and they’re always amazing) and as for Daniel Kitson, he’s so confident of his impending creativity that he can put a show on called, and I quote from the Fringe Brochure, “As of 1.52pm GMT on Friday April 27th 2012, this show has no title“, and the copy reads, “A new show by Daniel Kitson“.  ARGHHHH…

The problem isn’t ideas, I have ideas of things to write, the problem is motivation. For Revenge I was forced by the American playwright Donald Freed to write 8 – 12 pages a week on a new play, and 6 weeks later I had a new play. Similarly with Floating I had motivation, my sister knew she wanted to act in the show, i had a deadline, a bit of pressure and voila, new play. SO where do I get this pressure from, creating artifical pressure doesn’t work, you can’t fool your own mind unless drunk or stoned and that’s not conductive to writing. Commissioned writers are very lucky, they have the deadlines, the motivation to turn off Football Manager, or repeats of The Big Bang Theory…

What do I do…?

 

P.S. Still waiting on one review for Floating… Their website’s had problems uploading images so it’s delayed..

 

What next…

So that’s it, the show’s over, the responses are in, the reviews are slowly circulating and it’s back to reality… Floating was good fun to do, we got some great reactions, a couple of nurses (who I don’t know!) posted comments on the page and Unity Theatre’s wall:

“absolutely stunning show tonight. It was strange as a nurse of 40 years to see myself mirrored on the stage. I guess every nurse in the country not just those in ITU / HDU would see their own reflection on that stage. Sometimes we cannot express the anger, love, loathing & compassion that go with caring for people so when someone can it comes as a shock. Well done Susannah & Sam Freeman – a stellar performance of a stellar work.”

And

“I’m more of a Double Decker NHS worker myself…. Great performance tonight Suzannah 🙂 I also think a lot of the things that you mentioned tonight… You guys really hit the nail on the head with the way you feel about some patients when working in the hospital. If only loads of “yet to be patients” saw your show… Maybe they would appreciate staff more! :-)”

We also got, at the time of writing, a terrific review from Click Liverpool (I’d link to it but their website seems to be on the blink), which is a great feeling and very positive for the show.

The thing is, I find myself in a similar position to when I made Revenge, having created what seems to be a very good piece of work there being a need to create the next project… And that was the 1st question I was asked after the plaudits (which i never believe… so cynical), what’s next… So here’s a couple of projects I’m thinking about, comment below and let me know which you think I should do:

1# A storytelling piece about a guy about to commit suicide, with influences from the 1980s, George Orwell, School days and Big Brother. A love story, quite funny with a dark ending..

2# A one-man show about cricket.. I’ve been pondering this for a while, but have never quite got round to it. It might be 2 shows in one night, perhaps one about cricket and one about football, both 40 mins, but linked cleverly, it’d be a comedy, probably about urban regeneration and the loss of green fields and cricket grounds…

3# A play about dealing with cancer, but a comedy, albeit a tragic comedy, three actors, 2 acts, the first act is a farce and the second a black comedy, about friendship deep down…

4# A standup set about relationships, sexual failure and identity. Focusing around having moments of not really knowing what I stand for… If anything…. And whether that’s ultimately okay…

Get voting…

 

Rehearsing – This time less pretentious…

For those of you who are a regular reader of my blog, or have stumbled over the last couple of blog posts you’ll have noticed, when compared to earlier works of occasional light hearted genius, that the mood and tone has taken an excessively artistic and pretentious edge of late. I was questioned about my use of the word, ‘a breathing point’, in particular.

The problem with phrases like ‘breathing point’ is they can seem ludicrous, why would an audience need a breathing point? Why would they need to ‘collect themselves’? It’s only theatre! Can people not deal with the intensity of a play about serious issues without a time out?

The thing is. And here is  the thing. They are essential, every great play, piece of music, film or television programme needs those breaks before moments of emphasis, they enhance the power of what is to be said, can implicitly plant ideas to be revealed explicitly later on, they enhance the flavour, the strength, the vigour and the vibrancy of what is to come next. These breaks can allow summaries of ideas, convey the humanity of a character and create depth making them seem more three dimensional and real. They allow changes of tone to feel measured and allow designers opportunity to examine where they are currently in a piece to ensure that their work following that moment supports the narrative arc of the piece. They are, and sorry to repeat myself, essential.

So then what’s the problem. Is it perhaps that it is talked about not in the context of the plot or the characters but instead the effect on the audience. That’s a bit more of a personal one i think. I’ve always cared, perhaps wrongly, more about the audience experience than the plot or characters. They should all fit hand in hand, and largely they do, but my point of reference for sorting problems, finding solutions, making directorial decisions is first and foremost what will help the audience understand and enjoy the show more? Could be the right method, could be utterly wrong, either way it’s subjective.

So I think the phrase is right, the approach is personal and subjective, so then it must be my personal use of the words. Perhaps it is the idea of pretention on my part:

“Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.”

So was I being pretentious? I’m not sure, I hope not. What I hope is that I was trying to raise my own bar by talking about the parts of a show that interest me more, which in a personal blog, let’s be honest, it’s all about me, is okay. What I hope is that it’s okay to want to be better that I am, that it’s okay to write things like that, exploring ideas about structure before the horrific pictures of bed sores on google, maybe so people challenge it and I can look at the ideas more in another blog post written the following evening. Pretension is where we try to impress by effecting greater importance to what is possessed. What if the importance we suggest is equal to the possession and that to impress is a mechanism for improving yourself, moving on, up and beyond what you’ve done in the past?

Back to rehearsals…

We’re back in rehearsals for Floating this time down in London and we’ve had the first day of rehearsals. It’s great being back in the space, exploring the text and still finding new things to experiment with and push the play onwards finding variations of different scenes to find the best resolutions, the most honest portrayal also also a bit of drama too.

One of the problems with rehearsing such a serious piece of drama rather than a comedy is that it can feel intense and overwhelming at points – it’s not laugh a minute. However it’s important to find those lighter moments to give the play balance  and allow the audience some relief, a breathing point, when people can collect themselves and build up into the next section.

Susie has been researching extensively, gaining knowledge of everything she’s talking about onstage, she talks about sputum, cathotors and bed sores, and lo, pages upon pages of images of all three, pages of procedure and information and the accompany cries of shock and in some cases awe.

When it’s just two people rehearsing you can lose track of time and one of the refreshing things about working on the script has been how easily the time has passed. We ran the first section of the show today with sound effects and I fully expected it to last 15 minutes – thus there was shock when after about 4 minutes the section concluded. Or at least it felt like 4 minutes, in fact nearly 20 had passed. It’s a great feeling.

Keep tuned! Sam x

A new show…

I’ve been thinking about what to do recently and started writing a new show… Anyway here’s a bit of it, let me know what you think, if you’d be interested in being in it or if you’d fancy directing it!

When I was 15 I read ‘1984’.

We were in English, English Literature, the start of our final year of secondary school, after that out into the real world, a world of excitement and fun, free from rules about corridor walking, blazer wearing and workbook covering. No more rules and regulations breaking us down from savages into responsible members of society. We would soon be able to live carefree and happy.

It was October, an unseasonally cold October, and, four weeks into the new term, the 1950s classrooms with their tall single glazed windows were cold, freezing cold. Ice gathering on the inside of the glass, shoes squelched from Autumn rain and the sniffs and coughs of teenage flu flowed invisibly throught the air. In the morning you’d pretend to smoke the vapour on your breath in vapour, and in the afternoon, radiators stoked to burning, the scent of teenage body odours, Lynx Africa and damp shoes and coats would waft down the corridors.

The teacher came in from the stock cupboard, a cardboard box filled with yellowing well-leafed books, inscribed with messages from past readers, ‘Miss G sucked Mr F’, ‘Amy L for John D’ or ‘Simon P is a gaaylord’ spelt wrong, and accompanied by illustrations of mis-shapen ejaculating dicks with hairy balls and smiley one-eyed faces.

The teacher, ‘Miss Richardson’, married for over 20 years and still regretting becoming a teacher handed out the battered, grease-stained books as the class murmured its disapproval. New doodles were started, new incriptions made, old inscriptions modified and updated.

Cried of dismay echoed around the room.

 

“Looks shit miss”

“How many pages!?!”

“Mine’s missin’ pages”

 

I looked down at the sorry-looking booking on my desk, it was the book that was to change my life, ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

I’d never been a book person up until that point, I was a comic man. I loved, no, devoured comics. Heroes beating up villains, good overcoming evil, tight costumes showing every ripple of muscle and breast. Batman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, the X-Men and the impossibly dull Superman.

I also loved TV, even though the four channels, and the fifth, never spoken about in our household, filled with pornography, football and Nazi stories, often in disturbing combination, was rationed like a precious commodity by my parents.

I loved watching them, Jimmy Saville encouraging teenage smoking and shellsuits, Terry Wogan humouring dancing drunks, Anneka Rice encouraging guilty masturbation, Jason & Kylie – who’d have thought it’d never last – the stars of television.

I imagined what their lives must be like, travelling in first class singing duets on the plane, scores of adulating fans blowing kisses, a camera following me at bottom height whenever I had to run anywhere. I wanted it, I wanted to be a hero, I wanted to be on TV, to have the glamour, to chat to Terry, laugh at his jokes. And, I’m not proud of this – I imagined being a guest on Noel’s House Party.

It took me until I was twenty five to get my first girlfriend.

I was not a book person.

Until that point.

At that point I found a book that connected with me, excited me, thrilled me and exploded in my imagination.

I imagined Winston’s life, a double life, publically for and privately against the party, a force for good, a force for creativity, peace and love in a grey concrete city under grey concrete skies, undermining the system while relaxing in my spare time shagging Julia in the woods.

I imagined I could be the one to break it down, to overcome the system, break Big Brother, free my common man, like Winston Smith. A hero.

Of course I never finished the book.

 

Floating rehearsal – Day One

As part of my job as a theatre marketing person  I invariably find myself berating companies for not keeping an adequate record of the process they’ve gone though in creating a new piece of work. Alas I suspect I shall fall foul of my own demands, but in order to appease myself I’m going to make some notes about how the show is progressing.
The first blocking took just over 6 hours and was pretty intense and what seems to be emerging is part-confessional, part-educational and part-confrontational. This creates a dialemma, as with all mixed genre pieces there is the danger perhaps that you can lose some of the ferocity of the content amongst the narrative and visa-versa. It’s hard to know what we have at this point too, the real magic only really happens when the script is put down and the acting truely begins – it’s like building a house from breeze blocks, you can’t really fully imagine it until it’s rendered. Floating  is a monologue about the NHS, it’s a serious play about serious issues which is something new for me. In the past I’ve always directed rather more flimsy work and I’ve found it strange not instantly searching for a punchline ever minute or so. However what is very interesting, although we have only loosely blocked the piece at this time, is the dynamic the play creates with the audience and also with the performer. It tries to tell the story of the NHS today, or rather nurses today in an balanced but personal way, the theory being that by wrapping the facts in a narrative that is small I can explain bigger ideas, concepts and fundamental flaws that exist in all of us.

There seem to be two overriding elements that I experienced watching today. Firstly that the play is tough to perform and to work effectively will require a superhuman effort from my actress, and also my sister, Susie. Secondly that parts of the piece are quite, well, moving. There was a moment this afternoon, where the tone was hit perfectly (completely undirected I should add) and I found myself welling up. I mean, I wrote the piece and am directing it, but didn’t expect that. Tomorrow we’re working on the script a little more (while sadly also going to a funeral) but keep up with the show, it’s going to be very interesting over the next few months.

Night, Sam x

The Failed Writer – Chapter One

Chapter One – To Edinburgh

There is, I suspect, nothing more pleasurable in the entire world than travelling by train.

More specifically travelling in a massively overcrowded train where, against the odds, you’ve managed to find yourself in first class (paying only for a standard fare ticket) with a cold beer, tray of Bakewell tarts and the background drone of people analysing their lives and the lives of others.

I was on my way to Edinburgh, my first visit and the first during the Fringe Festival. I’d jumped on a train in Wigan, where after a minor delay I’d found myself stranded. There are worse places to be stranded than Wigan, but not many. The highlight of my two-hour stopover (a brutal condition of the low-cost ticket I’d bought) had been watching a workman on a rooftop opposite the metal bench on which I’d been gradually going numb, repairing a roof. He’d walk around the rooftop repairing tiles and examining guttering before looking longingly over the edge and the concrete car park below. I couldn’t blame him, to be honest if I lived in Wigan I’d have probably jumped long ago. The platform was packed with tourists who’d all had the misery of the train change enforced on their journey, clearly I’d chosen the wrong train to travel over the border on, but at least I didn’t have a suitcase the size of an obsese child or a group of friends who’d all invested in identical anouracks. It was hot onboard, unbareably so, and as we stood, sardine-like, the prospect of three hours stood upright, sweating into the three people around me seemed like the act of a madman. Yet fate was on my side as I, and another sardine traveller were ushered into 1st class as the rest of the fish looked on enviously before attempting houdini style escapology to remove excessive waterproof layers. Ah, first class, big seats, free coffee, all the wi-fi I could ever need and great company… Oh wait…

“I thought half of two hundred was one two five?”.

Bliss.

Is there anything more life affirming than a moronic American tourist? The tourist in question, a 19 year old girl with short denim shorts and blonde hair was swiftly corrected by her perma-tanned mother, “honey, i think it might be one hundred.” Think it might be one hundred? Clearly we have nothing to worry about in our education system when on the other side of the Atlantic basic division is such a major issue. I made a mental note never to let an American divide up anything, chocolate, money, families, or oil rich middle eastern states without proper supervision. The 19 year old returned to, well, whatever she was doing, certainly not reading. I’m not really sure what 19 year old girls from the States do (even when I was 19 it was a mystery), apart from challenge themselves mathematically and hum indiscriminately along to rap music.

Meanwhile American mother had turned her attention to her husband, trying to slumber in the seat next to her, talking at him with inane chatter to which he rolled his eyes and longed for the journey to end or train to crash.

“Did you bring tea? I’m not sure they have tea in Scot-land.”

I briefly caught the eye of the man sat opposite me and we smirked at each other in that smug but entirely non sexual way middle-class educated men do in England when confronted by idiocy. “Scot-land”, ah the beautiful method of separating two clearly connected words mixed with an inability to say “Scot” right (“Scoat” anyone?), clearly we were high on the intellectual mountain staring down into the valleys below. The husband rooted around in his day bag desperately searching for tea bags before relenting, apologising profusely and staring at the plug socket with the kind of longing a man ready to end it all can give. The man opposite, smiled, looking slightly confused and scared and picked up his book, Dan Brown, and I sighed. Clearly intellectual conversation on this trip was a long shot. Still, I had hummed rap to listen to, free coffee, four remaining Bakewell’s and free coffee, so I sat back to enjoy the scenery.

Despite the quite depressing beginnings at Wigan the journey North is one of the most relaxing and beautiful in all the country. If after the joys of Wigan you find yourself in dire need of reminding about our green and pleasant land then this is it. The train steamed through the rolling farmland of Northern Lancashire, dry stone walls breaking up fields filled with chilly looking sheep with babbling brooks flowing into river fords where landrovers pulled surprised Americans in people carriers from their watery dooms. Past Lancaster with its hauntingly dark brown river and shimmers of sunlight catching the castle and rooftops serenading passing observers. And then from nowhere we were in the fringes of the Lake District, Oxenholme Station (Gateway to the Lakes) filled with intrepid walkers wearing rucksacks the size of a house, carabinas holding containers and waterbottles (and undoubtedly tea bags should they stray beyond the border into the tea-free lands of Scoat-Land) and prestine walking boots that would never sample mud, rain or even grass.

The rolling hills became mountains where grass and sheep clung on for dear life and landslides eyed up the train in the valley below. As we passed an old viaduct in our air-conditioned, sterilised, speedy, and in 1st class plush train I was struck by how simple this trip had become. Making the trip to Edinburgh now was four hours yet nearly 70 years ago people making the same journey would have suspension free carriages, the perils of a ten hour plus journey as well as either blisteringly hot or tremendously cold temperatures to contend with. In the valley the white water of a river crashed against large boulders and I found myself convincing myself they’d been left from the last ice age rather than had recently rolled down the mountain above us maiming everything that stood in the way. Luckily the soothing tones of our train manager, Scottish accented with the soft tone of Edinburgh rather than the harsher “want a fight” flow of Glasgow came over the tannoy. It’s an accent one could listen to forever, so very soothing, even when informing about severe delays or the terrible consequences of smoking in the toilets. I imagine that if the train had been about to be hit by a particularly slow moving boulder then simply a softly spoken sentence would have sent us all to our deaths calm, relaxed and relatively happy. I’ve never quite understood why smoking has been banned universally, there are a few places, train toilets included where smoking would be positively beneficial. Imagine going into a nightclub (as we used to) and being able to smell smoke rather than vomit, or a portaloo and avoiding the experience of expelling bodily fluids from both ends as a result of the toxic odour.

I started to dose off as the train gently swayed from side to side so picked up the helpful travel guide. Sadly it wasn’t to help, other than to inform me that we were travelling at 125 mph (it felt a lot slower) and that they were undoubtedly very happy we’d chosen to travel in a Virgin train. I wonder whether society has gone badly wrong now that noone seems to chuckle at the name of a train company. When I arrived in Edinburgh I tried this on my friend Chris. “I came on a Virgin” I said beaming with my own hilarity. “Oh right, was it busy” he replied ruining my glee. I tried again, this time more pointedly, “I came in a Virgin” again beaming and supplementing it with an obligatory nod and wink. It’s safe to say the the following silence wasn’t the silence of approval.

To say I’d decided to go to Edinburgh on a whim would be, well, it’d be a complete lie. I’d been on a rather ill-fated holiday with an ex-girlfriend some five years previously and had fallen in love with the city. The holiday in question had been marred by several things and had led to doubts, not about the relationship, but about my ability to go on holiday. I’d managed to book the only ensuite accommodation in the city that had the ensuite part two floors away, past three other rooms and next to the dining room. This had become particularly disconcerting on the first morning where, while utilising said toilet I was able to eavesdrop on people dining on burnt scrambled egg and watery sausage. Admittedly it wasn’t the most entertaining conversations, apparently when you reach your late 60s you develop a preoccupation with finding the main outlet of the Edinburgh Woolen Mill (for all your woolen neeeds) and discussing the merits of low ceilings. It was only after wiping up (and flushing) that I emerged triumphantly from the toilet to be confronted by a series of appalled diners who’d clearly been able to listen as clearly as I’d listened to them to my bowel movements as they ate their breakfast. The holiday had careered from bad to worse as she’d (through no fault of her own) gone from bad to worse and become incredibly ill and with it removing any promise of a slightly dirty yet romantic holiday.

Anyway, that holiday aside I’d been take in by the architecture, the buildings clinging to hills entirely unsuitable for building, the views of mountains from every street and of course the lovely accent. I’d made a promise to return, to visit the festival and immerse myself in some sort of cultural pilgrimage to find myself and perhaps reinvigorate my artistic side so that I could make the leap from the mundanity of working as a glorified administrator to something exciting, respected and, well, artistic. Since the age of 14 i’d wanted to be an artist; a performer initially and then as a writer/director. I’d had ambitions; director of the National Theatre, actor with the RSC, a star of the little and big screens before marriage to one of the Friends cast and living out my days as a universally respected and much loved auteur. However life had got in the way and a part-time position in theatre marketing had led to a career with responsibilities, targets and expectation. I’d broken up (I was dumped) with the girl of Edinburgh holiday fame and after a mourning period of months (that gradually turned into years) i’d upped sticks and moved to Liverpool in a fit of whimsy. I knew I wanted to do something different but wasn’t sure what, so, after ringing my friend Chris, training in the army (mostly it seemed to do press ups and clean things), we’d hastily arranged a trip, during which, unbeknown to him, I would discover what I’d like to do with my future, meet lots of artistic types and buy a tremendous amount of highland shortbread for my girlfriend. It was a faultless plan.

The train was still crawling through Scotland with the hills and mountains subsiding into slightly barren looking fields with lonely bunches of decrepidly aged trees in ghostly siloquette on the horizon. The sunshine had gone as well and as I looked through the windows at the dark storm clouds hanging over Edinburgh I reflected that perhaps failing to bring either a coat or jumper had been a potentially fatal error, although at least it gave me opportunity to buy something covered in tartan to offends the locals, which, alongside my attempts to try an authentic Scottish accent might make me fit in perfectly, or perhaps more likely, look slightly racist.

I wandered through the daytime crowds of Edinburgh fighting against waves of weighty Americans, Spanish exchange students with matching backpacks and dour Scots lamenting this invasion of their home. I’d booked into a hostel at the far side of the city centre, a converted church on the edge of a valley amongst the architectural gems of Edinburgh. At least I wish that had been the reason I’d booked us in, in fact at £20 a night my tight fisted Yorkshire mentality had kicked in with no consideration for comfort, safety from violent death or sanitary hygiene. Arriving at the desk I signed in following a long conversation with the South African gate keeper over my failure to bring photo ID to prove who I really was. I’d love to know the people who are stealing other people’s hotel rooms, particularly rooms in a £20 a night hostel where running water could be considered luxury. She wasn’t impressed with my wit so I was sent off to the room, barely large enough for a single bed let alone the three bunk bends that currently filled the space and I secretly added the tagline “breathing room optional” to the hotel’s name. A stained glass window, lockers big enough for a body, six beds and a young nervous looking guy under my bunk. His name was Chris, and by virtue of having particularly thick rimmed glasses and a vast planner charting his exact movements around the fringe I warmed to him immediantly. I am a firm believer that glasses wearers are undoubtedly trustworthy (every seen a bespectacled Prime Minister?) so unpacked my belongings talking about comedy, the merits of hostels and the point of photo ID and our festival dreams. My friend army Chris (who is, unsurprisingly in the army, just to clarify again) would be flying in later so I took my leave (preparing my hilarious Virgin joke as I walked) and strode into the sun.

Three hours, two hundred flyers and an hour of religious comedy later I was back at the station cracking my joke (in my head now a classic) to an outpouring of distain and silence. I’d popped in (with my friend Rach) to see a show by comedian Bridget Christie, better known as the wife of acclaimed misery Stewart Lee. This is where comedy was at, in a tiny room the size of a snooker table with 40 people, stage, technician and comedian crammed in. We’d arrived late and been forced to sit on the front row. It’s important to know at this point that there is nowhere more dangerous than the front row of a comedy gig. From the start I was the chosen one. There are two methods of avoiding audience participation, both of which are severely flawed. The first, to avoid eye contact, contract your body, attempt to hide in plain sight, draws attention to your lack of attentiveness, which to the kindly comedian is an indicator to move onto someone else, however for the more aggressive comedian it’s a turn on, a marker of instant gratification, the role of schoolyard bully uniting the school against an unfortunate victim, simply on the basis of, well, at least it’s not me.

The second is more directly competitive and involves fixing the tormentor with the kind of icy stare Bruce Lee might fix upon a group of ninjas or perhaps a drug baron before unleashing Kung Fu of the highest order. It’s a game of who will blink first, the more forceful comedians will avoid lest to run the risk of an unseemly power struggle with a confident adversary while more softly spoken comics feel confortable breaking the ice with excessive pleasantness, compliments and general loveliness. So when I found myself the recipient of a call for audience participation I had to make a decision; ice queen or shy rose. I sadly chose both simultaneously and was dragged onstage in a Catholic priest confessional. I’d love to say I relished my tiny role, bathed in glory and produced a number of witty retorts and injokes that built an unsuppressable rapport between me, the performer, and them, the audience. It was not to be, failure, doesn’t quite sum up the level of misery I achieved. It was like a child being chosen to read for the first time in front of a large group of distant relatives (after being acclaimed as a “lovely reader”) before losing the bottle and nervously walking off in tears leaving embarrassed parents in their wake. The comedian helpfully compounded my utter lack of success noting that the 69 year old woman who’d been onstage the previous day had been much funnier. A great comedy event which, I had, against the odds, made substantially worse.

I left the show satisfied but slightly red faced and into the rarely seen Edinburgh sun. Along the slightly quieter Princes Street (opposed to the horrendous Royal Mile) in the direction of Leith, absorbing the novelty of street artists entertaining vast groups of excitable looking tourists. It’s remarkable how away from the festival we’d dismiss these performers and artists as an annoying distraction, an irritant, people we’d rather cross the road rather than listen to ukelele jazz or a rapped version of ‘Living on a prayer,’ but in the summer sun, the arts flowing through the air there seems nothing better than to idly watch a man create a painting using a toaster as a brush or perhaps juggling using flaming knife chainsaw grenades (at what point did balls and clubs become so last year?). The rest of the day was spent getting gradually more and more sunstroked, gradually less enamoured with the price of a pint and watching (and occasionally participating) in various shows of varying quality. There’s something incredibly exciting about seeing an unknown quantity, something unexpected where the idea of content is derived from a flyer that appears to have been drawn by a toddler on crack with their own faeses. I love the keywords and imagine there’s the possibility of Edinburgh flyer bingo, “Sex”, “never seen before”, “acclaimed”, “from the producers of” and “laugh-a-minute”, Bingo! We concluded the day on the fifth floor of an old university buildings in the fictional lounge of a young boys house with seventy other people. Holding hands and confiding our secrets with strangers, a lovely experience of sharing, far away from our isolated headphone led lives where communication with others is seen as an undesirable trait to be feared.

We walked home through near deserted streets dodging drunks with traffic cone hats, dis-guarded drifts of leaflets proclaiming praise and acclaim and along Princes Street towards the hostel. Sleep beckoned and the conversation turned observational and precise as we admired this great city. Sneaking into the hostel we tip toed along the silent corridors and into the room and suddenly with a peacefully sleeping twenty something sleeping in the bottom bunk I became acutely aware of the distinct lack of ladder with which to ascend to the upper bunk. I dived up the bed narrowly avoiding standing on the face of the lower bunk sleeper and dragged myself over the edge like a mountain climber at the top of Everest. I removed my contact lenses before scanning (in a now blurred manner) the room for new inhabitants. We’d been joined by three sleeping German students and there was one empty bed (me and chris taking the total bed count to six). I lay down and pondered the empty bed, maybe there had originally been four students and they’d murdered one, or perhaps one of the group had an invisible friend, or maybe, and most likely, one of them was out still. Something was missing, I could feel it but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My eyes, blurred and squinted scanned the near pitch black room, Chris, fast asleep was obscured from view and snoring peacefully. How I’ve longed to be the type of person who can instantly sleep simply by yawning and a close proximity to a duvet and pillow. It was bothering me now, something was missing and i couldn’t get my head around it. I continued thinking as the door opened and we were joined by the final incumbant of the room, a tall blond guy with broad shoulders and a blurred Boris Becker or maybe Bjorn Borg look. I wished I’d left my contacts in to pass further judgement but the notion of putting used contact lenses in my already red eyes seemed less than appealing.

I lay back in the darkened room and as matress springs gouged into my head I realised my loss; I had no pillow. Struck by the terror of the situation I panicked and ran to ill formed opinions; what would I do? how would i sleep? would I sleep? I contemplated walking to reception to ask for a spare but I was trapped, trapped by the lack of ladder to make a safe descent from the top bunk, trapped by my appalling eyesight limiting potential and possibly fatal obstacles to a faraway blur. This was not good. Not good at all. Recriminations ran through my mind, who was the guilty party, who had committed this atrocity, the unthinkable, this act of pure evil. I considered standing on my bed, 12 ft in the air and in a booming voice casting my fury upton my roommate as I towered over them in only a pair of boxer shorts. However I resorted to attempting origami folding my duvet to make a rudimentary cover/pillow combination despite the duvet being the same size as a small hand towel. To say I slept badly would be an understatement. Shattered and increasingly frustrated I longed for comfort and for the pangs of sleep to overcome and comatose me. In those six restless hours I made mental lists of the room’s quirks and oddities that made it entirely unsuitable for human occupation. Adding to the ignomy of a pillowless bed, an ascent to the top bunk sans ladder without harnesses or safety equipment that could be described quite moderately as reckless and my Becker/Borg roommates light yet mildly disturbing snores; I am 6′ 2″ yet my bed appeared to be only 6′, meaning my feet poked through the bars at the bottom of the bed. Or at least they would have if the rungs had been an inch wider, as it stood my feet were slightly too big to fit through the gap, and frankly, pushing the issue would most probably have exasperated the situation. Above my head light poured through a crack in the ceiling and into my eyes. The hostel, a converted church had arched ceiling around which sound reverberated and amplified. In our side room when I closed my eyes and concentrated fully I began to believe I could hear the collective breathing of 120 under 30s, sighing restfully under one roof, I hated them all. Eventually I drifted to sleep, waking at 8am with drool (my own) running down my face onto my arm (playing the role of a pillow and entirely numb) with a strand I tackfully wiped away as I rose. I was tired, grumpy as as if to add insult to injury surrounded by a group of happily sleeping people soundly dreaming with their heads in the softest of pillows.

I fell clumsily from my bed narrowly avoiding the clutter of Fringe brochures and empty coke cans on the floor finding my glasses tucked securely in the pockets of my jeans and dressed quickly. Sighs of sleep induced bliss echo’d around the room and even Becker/Bjorn, who it turned out was not the giant hairy man I assumed them to be but in fact a dainty 5′ 2″ girl with severe nasal problems would not be rising for hours. I considered stealing their pillows and returning to sleep, or perhaps smothering them all safe in the knowledge that the culprit would be caught, although admittedly combined with the deaths of four innocents, unless they’d be working together, there’s a thought. But instead I wandered to the common room to grab an excessively strong coffee, toast and jam and adjust my eyes to the unnaturally bright light streaming through the windows. Despite feeling as though i’d been through ten rounds with a heavyweight my gloomy mood started to lift as caffeine flowed through my arteries and soon I was all joy and wonderment again, half jogging into the showers to make myself look human again. I wonder what happens to me when I sleep, having seen many films and experienced it first hand with a girlfriend or two I know for a fact that the hair of a waking person should, normally, look identical to the state in which it was when they went to sleep (even, in films following the most romanticised yet passionate sex scene recorded). My hair, and indeed face doesn’t agree with this convention however, my hair sprawls like a gorse bush indeterminately greasy or excessively dry in patches of random measure. Meanwhile I seem to always lie in a position that imprints a semi permanent scar on my face, the seam of bedding, or a button on a pillow, or, in one extreme and mistaken purchase, tiny cuts from the sequinnes that made it look so relaxing and quirky on purchase. Returning to our room, Chris was awake and with military precision (without a hair out of place, damn him) was ready to set out for the day. Looking at my watch, 9.30am, an unheard of time, perhaps this was the joy of Edinburgh motivating me onwards we prepared to leave on our arty mission, could this be the start of a new me?

We left the hostel turning right down into the valley and into Edinburgh’s Dean Village for a morning stroll to work up an appetite, discover the “real” city and rememnice about when we were 16 and, remarkably, less geeky (marginally) than we now found ourselves. As we descended into the valley we passed ancient stone cottages and former mills and crossed the girder-ed bridge into this small glimpse of heaven. Dean Village sits on the side of the river and was the site of many mills in the 1700s and 1800s, set against the steepest sides of the valley it went into decline until the late 1970s after which it was reinvented and now is home to some of the most beautiful homes in all the country. The criss-crossing streets, nooks and cranneys and meandering dead ends that lace the hillside create an idyllic scene with an Austrian feel as the rush of water can be heard from the waterfalls and the frenzy of the festival is left far behind. Walking down the side of the river, under the bridges that towered above us we talked about our lives and the different path’s we’d both taken. Passing a waterfall our true selves emerges, Chris the adrenaline junkie (that was why he joined the Army, there’s no denying it) challenging me to walk along the top of it. Now in the past this would have been all I needed, when in Scarborough we had regularly got drunk and ensured our safety by walking over iced over lakes, often stamping at the ice next to the other persons feet to raise the danger stakes. Admittedly it’d been on a lake less than two foot deep, but still, a thrill. However now I’d grown up a little and upon further inspection of the waterfall discovered that although from the top of the falls it look very passable, the fourteen foot drop at the other side didn’t quite agree and made my stomach turn. We walked on and emerged next to regal buildings, specialist deli’s and exclusive coffee shops where every other car was a BMW and the alternates were Aston Martin’s. The fresh air and quiet within the centre of a city was refreshing. Since moving to a city I’ve become accustomed to the background noise, the sounds of sirens, gunfire and drunks meandering home with the constant orange glow of the streetlights. Everytime I stay with my parents who live in the beautiful Scarborough, I struggle to sleep for the perfect dark and silence are slightly unnerving, especially when occasionally punctuated by the raw bleet of a sheep in the fields behind their house. We finally emerged from the nice Knightsbridge of Scotland and walked to our favourite comedy venue, The Stand to purchase our viewing for the day.

Over the following few days we absorbed a disgusting amount of comedy, seeing show after show, trapsing and often marching up near vertical slopes to reach the next tiny venue with five people in the audience, a fake moustache and (allegedly) a five star review. I began to commit to memory aesthetic styles of performers, how they acted onstage, drew us in, toyed with us before delivering (or sometimes failing to deliver) the killer punchline. Edinburgh is one of the few cities with a huge valley down the centre. The castle sit on a vast volcanic castle rock overlooking parks, churches and the station from which weary travellers emerge to the joys of all-you-can-eat Chinese, Edinburgh Ghost Tour and the prospect of more hills. The valley once home to a vast lake, severely polluted by the city growing around it was drained for parkland and the railways, taking with it Scotland’s Nor Lock. At the tail of the rock down the immensely long (and predictably lengthed) Royal mile sits the royal residence and the Scottish parliament building. We briefly visited the parliament building, a vast looming and somewhat disturbing looking building. An open plan building with confusing staircases leading from one strangely sized room to another all finished in a light wood veneer that makes you think of Sweden or another Scandanavian country, somewhere peaceful and placid rather than the occasionally brutal and particularly forthright Scottish temperament. I had imagined something altogether more intimidating, something to strike fear into the hearts of those attending so that you’d sit up straight in your chair and keep attentive and accurate notes. Perhaps something to intimidate the English Royal residing over the road. However I was somewhat disappointed, it felt friendly granted, comfortable definately, but it also had a look of a cheap designer Ikea style furniture store, with a main auditorium with all the elegance and class of a former polytechnic turned university lecture theatre. It quickly became apparent as we wandered through the looming buildings of Edinburgh that our lack of planning was at a cost. The vast planner that non-army Chris had developed clearly had a point, I imagined him wandering serenely from venue to venue, perhaps stopping off for an espresso on route or maybe a pain au chocolat before arriving early to shake the hands of the performers, God we hated him. We in the meantime had chosen venues at the linear opposite sides of the city, finding ourselves marching (or double-timing) mile upon mile of 1 in 2 steepness cliffs before rushing into the venues late puffing and wheezing like asthmatics at the end of a hundred meter sprint.

But we loved every moment of it, seeing the comedians who were aggressive and forced their personalities upon the audience like reckless boxers to the slow and cynical types who leered and snorted and even guitar wielding (should I say axe? That’s a more guitarist term?) groups playing songs of love and asking profound questions like “What would Jesus do” or “How many songs use the same 4 chords”. I was like a giddy child who’d been given too many sweets, filled with joy, excitment and suddenly it struck me, the reason I was here what had led me to this point, after all this time, what I wanted to be, where I wanted to be, who I wanted to be.

A chartered accountant.

No, but seriously now. I wanted to be the funny man in the room, the one telling the jokes, lapping up the success and having those awkward silences. I wanted to be performing to 5 people in the back of a pub, or even better to 500 in a converted lecture theatre. This would be my mission, to perform some comedy, or make people laugh, through whatever mean possible.

And with that, my first Edinburgh Fringe was complete.

 

The Failed Writer – Preface

The preface of any book is usually written after the book has been completed. It’s the section where the author thanks his loyal audience for purchasing this “essential read” and for embarking upon an “emotional rollercoaster” with this the sole occuping project that has filled their lives for the previous few years. They also usually thank friends and families for their patience, implying that as they were preparing this masterpiece they had become the most hideous people, causing social carnage with their artistic frustration and laying siege against the gates of completion before storming the castle and getting, humbly, to this point of publication.


I’m writing this for a somewhat different reason and before even starting writing anything. For the past few years I found myself somewhat directionless, lacking motivation and a reason or objective that was artistic and I could really cling to. I have always wanted to be a writer, a playwright to be precise but in recent years I’ve struggled to get past the first play onto the difficult second album. It became a running joke, and not a joke I took against as it was firmly rooted in reality, that of my group of friends I was the failed writer, plenty of potential, close to fulfilling it once, but had ultimately allowed it to drain away leaving only fond memories to be enjoyed over a cup of tea with friends.

So I decided to make notes about my voyage to pull away from the brink of oblivion and try and move in a more positive direction, get some artistic juices flowing (honestly, that just sounds dodgy doesn’t it?) and keep a diary of my attempt to achieve fame and fortune and move from failed writer to, well, something better.

My aim, is to write 16 chapters of 5500 words each (a grand total of  88,000 words) and when completed to self publish five copies – not a hugely commercial aim, granted, but one laced with difficulty, most notably the idea of writing 88,000 words. Decent words as well, with values, leftist beliefs and liberal notions.

So here goes, enjoy this “essential read” that’s sure to take you on an “emotional rollercoaster”.

© 2018 Sam Freeman

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