Writing exercise- River ride

This is from the writing group I attend, and it’s the first time I’ve tried to create an exercise myself. Feel free to try it yourself, or share it , tried to make it pretty open ended so people can put their own spin on it, and would be happy to see anything inspired by it if you’d like to post it here or link to it on your own blog.

 

Recommended time 15 minutes

Take a journey you have been on in your life, or one that you would like to go on, or worry about going on- either one place to another or metaphorically- one state of being or state of mind to another, and imagine the places being on either end of a river- even if they’re in completely different places.

Now imagine yourself taking that journey along the river.

What is it like? Think about

  • the flow of the water,
  • the weather,
  • what is carrying you? Is it a boat, does it have a name?
  • Do you see anything in the water? Is it in your way, is it difficult to proceed?
  • Is there anyone or anything encouraging on the riverbank?
  • How do you feel as you get further down the river..?
  • How far along the river do you think you are, have you made it to the end or do you still have a way to go? How will you feel if or when you get there?

Describe all this in poem, prose, however it comes to you.

A storm by any other name

I try not to read or watch much news, but when there is a national emergency, particularly in a nation I can do little about, I get caught up in the coverage as much as other people, even a certain person who seems to think ‘BBC News 24’ is a mandatory instruction! I’ve made a lot of friends in other countries, past and present, wish they were all present, but there are so many things that can happen in life, it’s a miracle anybody gets by with someone to talk to..  I still care about anybody who was ever good to me, and any time a link is broken or any conversation ends in an unsatisfying way, I dread the possibility that that could be the last time I hear from them, and that something may happen that will end any possibility of seeing that person, of saying the things that are held back until the last moments.
That’s why I feel unsettled by hearing about this hurricane, superstorm, Sandy. This strangely named  freak of nature is endangering the lives of some really great people and I just really hope that it is going to be okay. Take care of yourselves and let people know you care. Life can be long, but we never know how long. Stay safe.

Steptoe on Stage

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, before the Satellite/Cable/Digital/Online/Solar/Monkey powered revolution there were very few channels here in England, and a lot or repeats (or reruns as Americans might say).

This might be an annoyance- and indeed now when I do have several channels I roll my eyes at the same episodes of shows being repeated within weeks- but it allowed me to watch a lot of programmes that had finished by that time, such as the pre CGI Doctor Who, The Littlest Hobo and Land of the Giants among other favourites. Time hasn’t depleted my enthusiasm and my eventual acquisition of a VCR among other 90s appliances allowed me to find other shows, mostly those that my parents remembered.

One of these quickly became an enduring favourite of mine- as it had for millions of Britons in the 70s.

Written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Starring Harry H Corbett as Harold (son) and Wilfrid Brambell as Albert (Father) :

 

 

 

Steptoe and Son

The story of a father and son’s rocky and claustrophobic relationship spiralled out of a Comedy Playhouse episode and lasted for 57 episodes; four series from 1962-1965 and another four from 1970-1974 as well as 2 films and numerous foreign variations.

Harold’s undying ambition often echoes our own desire to better ourselves, indeed you might find it in many very different characters, such as Only Fools and Horses’ Del Boy. Ironically a career as varied as David Jason’s would probably have been very satisfactory to Corbett, an excellent actor who was famously typecast in this role. Corbett and Brambell’s relationship seems to have eventually become even worse than that of their characters. They were as trapped in the roles as Harold and Albert were in the rag and bone yard at Oil Drum Lane! This has been well documented in numerous books, and the television drama The Curse of Steptoe (2008), so let’s move onto the other versions of the characters

Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford (Father) and Demond Wilson (Son) in:

Sanford and Son

The American version of Steptoe and Son was just as popular stateside. Starting in 1972 during British Steptoe’s second run, it lasted

Until 1977, more than double that of its predecessor, though in only six seasons, as American ‘seasons’ often run to over twenty episodes compared to British ‘series’ standard six. Sanford was more like a regular sitcom, it had some dramatic moments but it was vastly different, from the less extreme and sometimes even healthy relationship of the characters, to the frequent drop-ins of in-laws and friends- the British series had it’s share of visitors but characters rarely if ever recurred. The setting was still run down but in a rough area of Los Angeles with a lot of 70s ebonic lingo, and Hercules the Horse is now a rundown truck. I was apprehensive at first but I recently got a complete Sanford and Son boxset and find it to be a great comedy in it’s own right, very different even in the 16 episodes whose concepts were lifted directly from Steptoe episodes. Some may not like one show, or some may not like the other, but for me Steptoe and Sanford can coexist peacefully and hilariously, always.

Which brings me to the reason I started this piece;

This year I saw a very different side to the two. Four episodes of the classic series- including the first two and another from series one.

The Offer, The Bird, The Holiday and Two’s company.

Dean Nolan as Harold, Mike Shepherd as Albert, Kirsty Woodward as ‘woman’ (actually a number of women as well as a turn as an elderly male doctor) adapted and directed by Emma Rice.

 

 

Kneehigh Theatre

First things first, I think this is the only play I’ve ever gone to see twice. Within the course of a week. That could be the sign of a masochist but not this time. I really enjoyed it that much.

The imaginative set design- incorporating the gate, the house, the yard and the cart into a portable mass of junk kept with the feel of poverty, while providing an impressive sense of scale, the empire that old man Albert and his father built up over decades (the & son actually refers to Albert- a point raised in the original series but not in Sanford and Son as Fred moved from St Louis many years before). The music is very different, featuring a theme incorporating parts of an obscure song called Daydream by the Wallace Collection (no, not The Who, although that reaction is understandable) and a number of famous songs of the 60s and 70s which mirror the story’s eventual progression in time.

At first glance this version is very surreal, with occasional dancing interludes, a fairground carousel style horse in the sidelines as Hercules and a disembodied car seat as an armchair among many other rustic props.

It has been noted that the actors are very different from Corbett and Brambell, with a different setting implied by the black country accents. Though both have some of their predecessor’s looks and mannerisms Dean Nolan is notably larger than Corbett with a very different build but he is a brilliant all rounder; showcasing a good deal of strength, fast and nimble dancing and a powerful singing voice that gets an amazing original song beautifully expressing the character’s plight.

Mike Shepherd was a little more like what I might have expected from Albert, with one of the classic lines of Two’s company being delivered to great effect with a loooong delay as Albert struggled to comprehend the situation. I can imagine that part must have been eagerly anticipated during every step of the creative process.

Kirsty Woodward was often in the periphery as many of the situations revolved around the arguably titular duo, but showed some versatility in her performances as the women who would complete the picture, from visions of Emily- the wife, mother and potential peacemaker whose absence was sorely felt by the pair- through dancing girls that linked the episodes with amusingly presented title cards, to the potential fiancées of both- quite different characters- to the abovementioned Doctor of ‘the Holiday’, which was rather funny, if a bit of a cold shower for me after the other costumes!

All three stars have great comic timing, co-ordination and acting skills, attaining both sympathy and blame for their characters. Not to be sycophantic but both performances I saw were faultless. There are so many wonderful touches it is clear that there is a great fondness for the range of the original scripts. One moment which really spoke to me was the piece in ‘two’s company’ where the pair help each other dress for dinner. In a huge contrast to the similar scene in ‘the bird’, which features Harold losing his temper at his dad’s refusal to get a wash and more-or- less dunking him head first into the wash basin (that really works, which is a nice touch), the later scene is carried out with great delicacy to Elvis Presley’s ‘You were always on my mind’ and may just jerk a tear loose. Just little things but it showed that despite all of the bickering, all of the sabotage, and the resentment, father and son still have a lot of care for each other.

You may know the episodes, but their presentation is so different here it’s the freshest take on the story since the original series was first broadcast. As I said above about Sanford and Son, the two iterations of Steptoe deserve to coexist, and I feel they make great companion pieces to each other. Now if only there was a chance of a DVD of the stage show…

If you’re a fan of 70s sitcom, comic theatre, offbeat musicals, horse impressions, humorous dancing (the Woodstock part would be a great sketch on its own), minimalist theatre, dramatic theatre, retro music, old music or you just want to sit in a different seat for a couple of hours, I recommend Kneehigh’s Steptoe and Son with all of my heart AND my wallet. The Leeds run will be winding up now but it’ll be going on tour and it’s worth travelling for.

On starting reviews

I love a lot of things in pop culture, I’m probably too open-minded (or nice) to really review things, I’m usually too busy enjoying something to critique it, I appreciate the work that goes into them and my memory is.. Let’s say bad. Nevertheless I do sometimes feel like showing my appreciation for things, so here’s a place for me to start. If you want to comment on these pieces, please give  constructive criticism at the worst and be respectful to the artists of the works I’m discussing. So, reviews starting shortly.

First up will be Steptoe and Son: the play.

Those who can, help.

I’ve been dealing with charity work in some capacities for some time now. I’m due to be starting a volunteer placement soon, I’m a trustee with what I feel to be one of Leeds’s ( Meanwhile I’m looking for a real job, and an employment consultant at the place I’m going to showed me a job advertisement that I loved. It’s with a charity, will involve my Uni honed IT skills, my increasing confidence and organising volunteers. Every line read “I can do this“. I really wanted to make this an application that would blow someone of their chair. But of course, I muffed™ it. I think. I had next Thursday on my mind and when I read the Email with the deadline it was set there, I even put it in on the calendar app on my phone. So, as I reached a late part in the construction of this epic of inexperience and slight euphemism I had another look at said magic missive, I just about wet my laptop.


The deadline was that very day. Almost 2 hours ago in fact. The place went from the palm of my hand to the skin of my teeth. I hurriedly finished the form, -having to leave the holes I meant to plaster around to the angels. Or buzzards- and spent valuable time trying to accentuate some extinuation in the accompanying email. So, 2 hours late. It’s too early to know if it will get anywhere. But the uncanny accuracy of the job description made me feel like there is a place for me. I always think when I leave things to do when I’m feeling better that I assume “tomorrow I’ll be Superman!” A reasonable assumption perhaps, but often disproved. But perhaps this is a way that I can be more. Whether or not I get this job I’m going to look to charities.


I try to be polite where I can, very much so actually, holding doors long before people notice but I am happy to. I like helping people and it’s about time to bring it forward. I can still hold doors for people who don’t really need it, but I can also open doors for those who do need it.


I hope you are all feeling good.


You’re welcome to share if you’re not. Be good to yourselves and each other. (Is that from a cartoon or something, it was just there in my head!?)


One last thing…


EXCELSIOR!!!

Oluwale and the Ghost

Another piece from a writing group session, about David Oluwale. We read a chapter of the Hounding of David Oluwale focusing on his difficult time in Menston/Highroyds psychiatric hospital. The brief was to write an account of his time there from the perspective of a fictional observer. I chose to apply some artistic licence and create a ‘ghost’ to empathise with him. Spelling and grammar are phonetic and in-character, with a Yorkshire dialect.

I’m here Lad, as I think I always were.

Though yer skin’s t’opposite hue to what I can see of me now,

I know the pain yer going through.

I were there too when I was on that side,

That electric thing- it does yer brain,

How can yer be people when yer tret like that?

Would never o’wanted me old dog to feel that.

Heck, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, cept them that say it has to happen.

Little letters, long words, they don’t need you to understand.

But you know what they’re sayin,

You learn a word when it’s been done to ya like that.

If my heart still beat it would ache for yer, even bleed.

I’m grateful for the mercy that brought me from this suffering.

But to see it on another is so much worse.

Please lad, let me take your place.

A madhouse don’t need new martyrs.

Get out the door, take your opportunities,

And you can take my share an all.

A thought for Olu

This is a piece I just wrote as part of the writing group I attend- The Baggage Handlers, Leeds, and it is in tribute to a tragic local figure named David Oluwale.

It can take a lifetime to know a man

It can take a moment to try.

People are never beyond repair

But if no-one will help

How can anyone know they are not alone in the world?

They abused because they didn’t understand

They were not raised to

Yet they stood for all that is good

And let a poor man die.

 

 

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Oluwale

http://www.rememberoluwale.org/

http://www.highroydshospital.com/galleries/david-oluwale-the-tragedy/ for details of his case and things that are being done to keep his memory alive.