Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Blind Man's Buff

In 2006, I was a member of the company for the Summer Festival Season at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Later in the season, once there was no more rehearsing, a group of us got together in the studio of the local radio station, Heartland FM, and recorded a couple of radio plays I'd written.

This is not high-tech stuff- it was an interview studio, not a drama one, and our attempts at sound effects and atmos are rudimentary and non-existent, respectively. And I didn't understand the editing software very well so we had to do every scene in one take!

But the quality of the acting was so high, and they're sweet stories- cheerful romcoms which might make people smile in this weird time- that I thought I'd put them online. I hope they'll fill a little time in a self-isolated or quarantined day.

This is the first of them- BLIND MAN'S BUFF. Written in 1999, recorded with a few rewrites in 2006. (If I had been able to see the future I probably wouldn't have called a character Alexa...) If people enjoy it I'll put up the other play, a comedy about dating and maths called BYPASSING JENNY.

Here it is!

Cast in order of appearance:

Rachel: Helen Logan
Alexa: Amy Ewbank
Alan: Ronnie Simon
Tom: Anthony Glennon
Jill: Michele Gallagher
Tony: Darrell Brockis

Thursday, 26 December 2019

So Could Anyone

Let’s be clear: the last thing I want to be doing in the wee small hours as Christmas Day turns to Boxing Day is to be writing something about a song we’re all sick of discussing. But the alternative would be lying in bed unable to sleep as the same old thoughts rotated through my brain with the insistence of the NYPD choir singing Galway Bay.

So the upshot is, I’m sat in my sister’s lounge, where the only light is this laptop, trying to explain yet again how this time of year is harder than it needs to be if you happen to be a cheap lousy faggot.

Last week I was in the glassware department of John Lewis at Brent Cross, trying to find one last Christmas present for my faggot of a husband. I was listening to a podcast but, faggotishly enough, I don’t have noise-cancelling headphones so I became aware of a song that was playing in store.

It’s a fucking brilliant song: rackety and festive and sad and funny and ding dong merrily on high. But it’s gradually become a song that has made me flinch. There’s a word in it that faggots like me- not all of us, but a good number of us- have found harder and harder to hear, over the years.

There was a time when the word, in context, didn’t bother me at all. I bellowed it, eight pints down, along with everyone else, and then we all talked about how the song it’s in is the best Christmas song, because it is. But the thing is, there have been a lot of changes in the last thirty years or so. The thing about being a frightened minority (and we faggots all know how that feels, even though there are other minorities worse off than us) is that you don’t even know how oppressed you’ve been until you start being a little less frightened, and that can take generations.

As a cheap teenage faggot in the 1980s, I internalized the idea that being different made me worth less. I was so, so ashamed of what I loved. As a lousy twentysomething faggot in the 90s, I welcomed the changes to the law that made me a little less lesser. I didn’t believe in equal marriage then, by the way: marriage was for the people who were real. I hadn’t yet met my husband, but I sure as hell believed I wasn’t allowed him. As a scumbag thirtysomething faggot in the 2000s, I started realizing that language had been a huge, huge part of the narrative of shame I’d grown up with: that the fear of being called a word, or words, had diminished me in what should have been the shiniest years of my life.

This was round about the time the vocalist who sang the word in the Christmas song started singing an altered lyric, by the way, because she was a brilliant human being who saw what it meant before most of the rest of us did. You'd think that would have been the end of it, but she died in horrible circumstances so her opinion on how words change over time became irrelevant for some reason.

And then, just the other day, I was in John Lewis buying a Christmas present for my husband when I heard the song and I couldn’t bear, couldn’t BEAR, that I was about to hear the word in a nice cosy shop surrounded by hundreds of other people. I wanted to turn up my headphones and drown it out, but a part of me thought that would be cowardly, so I came to the good old faggoty compromise, and accepted that I have to hear a vicious slur about myself a hundred times every Christmas, and that the little stab it gives me every single time is something I have to deal with, because to be upset by it is snowflakey and PC and woke and it’s just a word in a song for god’s sake and they’re singing in character and what’s your problem with hearing that word while you’re doing Christmas shopping, faggot?

(That ‘it’s a character’ defence, by the way: what a doozy. I’ve been in quite a lot of plays and played quite a lot of characters. They say all kinds of stuff. I’m going to write a Christmas classic where a ‘character’ sings ‘I have cancer/ It’s terminal/ I will probably die in agony/ During the Nine Lessons And Carols’ and if anyone finds it less than festive I will say ‘Unfortunately that is what the *character* in my lovely Christmas song is thinking and of course you should put it in your TV ad/department store/sitcom because DUUUH CHARACTER DUUUH’.)

So tonight- Christmas night, ffs- some of my family (which includes two faggots) watched the ‘Gavin and Stacey’ Christmas special. The Christmas special of the beloved sitcom, on BBC1, on Christmas Day, that decided to include the song, and the word, in a way that dared anyone to have a problem with it. ‘It’s a song! It’s a word!’ they winked as the character whose probable gay past has been a running joke for nearly a decade sang ‘faggot’ to families everywhere. It’s funny because he hates himself!

They definitely knew. All of them. When they decided to put it in a scene, they knew. When the producers received the script. When they shot it and edited it. When they trailed it and broadcast it and tweeted about how proud they were of their show. They all knew that they had decided to address the fact that some faggots feel their shoulders tense up when that song starts to play: that we instantly start the internal debate over whether we’re allowed to be upset, that our hearts beat a little faster and we get a stab of anxiety. That every year, the season of peace and love and goodwill to all men yells a word at us that is formed entirely of hate, and we have to be good sports and claim not to be bothered. They knew that, and the message they decided to send to us was ‘suck it up, faggots’. To put it mildly, that doesn’t feel like punching up.

Of course it didn’t make things instantly, materially worse for queer people. It was just a moment in a sitcom. But I can promise you that a lot of queer people had a moment of sadness. Of otherness. A lot of us were reminded that we exist in your world for as long as you permit us, and if you ever changed your mind there wouldn’t be enough of us to make it a fair fight. History kind of bears us faggots out on that one. That's a sad thing to be reminded of on Christmas Day.

(In fairness, some queer people instantly took to their social media to say how unbothered they are, and that they wanted to distance themselves from anyone who has a problem with the song or with the sitcom. To those people I would like to say that nobody would EVER know and it is TOTALLY fine to LIKE being MASCULINE because god knows you wouldn’t want to be one of THEM. Btw and fyi boys: the people who hate the queens hate you just as much. Unfair, right? Soz).

The rest of us, though: we’re tired. And sad. And increasingly scared. And if- like Shane McGowan, or Rob Brydon, or James Corden, or Ruth Jones- you’ve never been called a faggot (or any of the other words for difference) by someone who knew it to be true and wanted to do you harm, then you don’t get to tell us that our sadness and our fear aren’t valid.

Happy Christmas, that word in that song. I pray god it’s your last.

Friday, 7 October 2016

National Poetry Day 2016

At first you don't notice.
With a toddler's confidence 
You are the world.
And even when it creeps in,
When you're six or seven
And you say or do something
Which is right and normal
But which makes other people
Do a face
You still don't fully get it.

When you clock it
When it hits you
You're in or near adolescence
Which is not ideal.
You have all the other stuff,
The clusterfuck of hormones
To deal with.

So when you're eighteen,
Twenty, twenty five,
That's when you rationalise.
You try out words 
To see how they sound in your mouth.
You say 'I am this'
And hope you're not.

Past forty
You get bullish
And proud, and angry
And you look at the child you were
And honour his fear
And his pain and his bravery
And you say to him
Don't worry.

And you thank him
For doing everything you needed to do
For being scared
But not scared enough
And letting you
In your middle age
Say with pride and scars
'I am different.
I am just as different as anyone else.' 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

"Day 106..."

Celebrity Big Brother is about to start on Channel 5, and the ads for it have made me suddenly realize what it is the Labour Party leadership elections are reminding me of.
They’re housemates.

Liz Kendall is the one whose VT makes you want to hate her. The things she says have you so riled up that you’re ready to pick apart every word she says. But as it turns out, she’s not in the edit much, and when she does show up she seems more likeable than you expected. You still don’t warm to her, but you grudgingly accept she’s probably not as bad as you thought.

Jeremy Corbyn is the one who is nominated by the other housemates every week. They notice that the public keeps voting for him, but can’t process why. Every eviction night they expect him to go then wonder why he hasn’t. His popularity makes them angry with the public but they have to stop themselves saying so. Occasionally he'll say something that makes you think 'wait, what?' which will be used as the basis of a whole episode if nothing much else happened that day.

Andy Burnham is the one who sees himself as the alpha male of the house. He’ll say what seems reasonable to whoever is in front of him, and will bank on people not noticing the inconsistency. His schtick is the 'hey, I'm just a normal guy' thing, but he gets worryingly furious if someone implies he isn't best human. The Andy Burnham housemate in your average series of BB gets to the final, but comes sixth.

Yvette Cooper is the one who relies on keeping quiet and hoping the other housemates are unpopular enough for her to sneak a win. She’s the one who stands up for herself over an argument about washing up in week 7, then constantly refers back to that conversation when people accuse her of fence-sitting. She’s never up for eviction, and leaves the house to neither boos nor cheers. 

Who wins? You decide. Unless you’ve ever tweeted something positive about the Greens.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

2015 BC

It seems oddly appropriate that the Black Cap is to become a branch of the Breakfast Club. To take somewhere which has been badly-behaved for fifty years, while at the same time providing a haven for society's rejected, and to turn it into somewhere where you can get French Toast for nine quid on the way to work strikes me as a perfect symbol for what is happening to London. 

I've nothing against the Breakfast Club, in particular- I've had some nice food in various of their branches. Actually, I do have one thing in particular against them, which is the disingenuous, poor-little-us-are-we-the-baddies? narrative they're trying to pass off onto us, but that's just a symptom of something larger, and tidier, and more cosily antiseptic.

One day everything will be rag-rubbed, and we will all sit on upcycled pine, and read menus that pretend to be your friend and chalkboards with quirky little aphorisms on them, and nobody will remember that London used to be a place where the genteel could be genteel if they wanted, but where there was also space to be dirty or edgy or dangerous or unconventional or- in the most inclusive sense of the word- just a bit queer. Where you could go to places whose primary function wasn't just to chummily relieve you of as much cash as possible.

And we'll sit there, and wonder what happened to the chaotic, exciting city we used to live in where not everyone was a millionaire, and how everything got so boring and so identically soulless, and how they managed to make that dinky little sprig of parsley sit so perfectly on top of our goat's curd and chorizo scrambled egg.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Word Association.

Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, you say the first one that comes into your head. Ok?

Here goes.


If you’re the journalist Allison Pearson, more than one word comes into your head. When Allison Pearson hears the word ‘Immigration’, she thinks ‘the abuse of children in Rotherham’.

Presumably, when someone says ‘Gloucestershire’, she thinks ‘Fred West’. If someone says ‘Happiness’ around AP, she hears ‘That Todd Solondz film about paedos’. If you say ‘Love’, she probably gets an image of Kurt Cobain shooting himself.

I say this, because Pearson has tweeted her anger that Ed Milliband didn’t mention immigration in today’s speech. And the reason she's angry he didn't mention immigration is  Rotherham.

How does a brain do that? How does somebody move seamlessly from the vexed, complex, vital issues of nationhood, borders, asylum, diversity and culture into a crime perpetrated by a group of sick men? How does someone hear ‘foreigner’ and go straight to ‘rapist’?

What happened in Rotherham is disgusting, troubling and upsetting. Evil men did evil things and chances to stop them were missed time and time again. Questions must be asked and blame must be apportioned- particularly, in this case, to the Labour council which screwed up.

I am sad to say that I am no massive supporter of the Labour Party. I’d like to be, but they make it so bloody difficult.  I will vote for them, but holding my nose and thinking 'least worst'.  I condemn the failures of Rotherham Council in the strongest possible terms.

Rotherham means that questions have to be answered about criminal justice. About policing. About social work. About local authorities. All of those things spring to mind when one reads about what happened because even though to cite some of them may be a little broad-brush and generalised, they all have a major part to play in the case. 

But, you know what? When I hear about something a few hundred people did, I don't assume that they're identical to another few hundred thousand. When I hear that some people who committed a crime shared a cultural identity, I don't assume that everyone of that cultural identity behaves the same way.  

And as a result, Rotherham isn't the first thing I think of when I hear the word ‘immigration’, or even- especially- the first thing I think of when I hear a speech in which immigration isn't mentioned. 
To do that, you’d have to be a massive… well, you know the word. And anyone who really cared about the awful things that happened to those poor young women would hate the idea of using them to make a cheap party political point.

I expect Allison Pearson isn’t a… well, you know the word. But she is undoubtedly a cynical opportunist who is happy to appeal to people who are.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Tinfoil hat. But then he would say that, wouldn't he?

(Note: this blog post has been tested by an independent adjudicator- well, me- and found to be totally neutral. By me. Suck it.)

So. The whole indyref thing. Isn't it awful how the BBC is totally pro-union and constantly pushing a pro-union message?

Also, isn't it awful that the BBC is totally pushing the Yes agenda and giving far too much time to that awful Salmond fella?

We've been here before, of course. Gaza is the most obvious, recent, painful example. Anyone who spends any time with any social media will know that the BBC led with a hideously pro-Israel, anti-semitic, Palestine-friendly, Zionist agenda.

There's no more telling example of confirmation bias than a nicely divisive issue. It's very, very easy to see someone one doesn't like on the news and fall into the trap of thinking 'LOOK! LOOK! THEY'RE PUSHING THE THING I HATE!' And once you've seen it, it's pretty easy to believe it.

Here are some things I know about the way the BBC works. I've been involved with providing drama and LE content to the BBC, so I have a take on the organisation as a whole, but from an outside (and generally a frustrated) perspective. On the other hand, someone who has been one of my best friends for twenty years is a Producer for BBC News. And I know a wee bit about Ofcom, owing to a combination of the above.

Firstly: Compliance is king, emperor, deity. You try putting out some content of any kind, it's going to be vetted on a lot of different levels. This is where any kind of agenda gets flagged, flayed, and put down with a lethal injection.

Secondly: In stark paradox to the above, people who DO have an agenda are nonetheless given the chance loudly to express it. This is why the Farages, the Hopkinses, the Phillipses get a platform on the BBC to shout about how they don't get a platform on the BBC. When did you last hear ITN or Sky run a report about something shitty that had happened on ITN or Sky? Clue: you didn't, ever. 

Thirdly: The neutrality which the BBC must maintain causes a kind of sibling syndrome: tougher on the 'loved ones' than on the 'enemy'. The Telegraphy, Colonelly people who bang on about the left-wing bias of the Beeb are largely right, in a way, because- surprise!- the people who choose to live in big diverse cities and work for a publicly-funded broadcaster tend to be of the left. That's WHY we keep getting, for example, the lunatic fringe of Christian Voice invited to talk about, say, abortion, or homosexuality. It's why we have to have someone like Toby Young on every time an actual scientist talks about climate change. For balance. Or, if you will, 'balance'.

Fourthly: There's regulations. Let's use, as an example, the nasty little fuckers at UKIP. Thing is, at the last-but-one EU elections, they came fourth in the public vote. What that meant, under regulations we'd all largely be in favour of in principle, is that they HAD to have a percentage of the airtime for the most recent EU elections. In which they did significantly better, so they have to have MORE airtime at the next EU elections and so... but you get the idea. Vicious circle. Question: did that initial rise in their votes, the rise that triggered the Ofcom regs, come from the BBC or the tabs? You decide. (PS: it was the tabs)

Look, I'm not a wild-eyed, naive, Beeb-lover. God knows, anyone who tries to work for them as a freelance, or as a representative of an independent provider, is unlikely ever to say 'bbc' without saying 'the pissing sodding fucking...' first. There are mistakes made all the time in the reporting of sensitive issues. That has happened with the kippers, and with Gaza, and with issues of race and gender and pretty much anything that people care about enough to invest with a news story. 

Barely a day goes by without a march or protest that people think should have been reported, and they're probably right. Because, of course, the people who decide what goes on the news- being fallible- make mistakes. One of the triggers for this post was a news report about the referendum to which my friend Kate drew my attention; a horrible, patronising report of a shortbready, tartanny, white Scotland where people sit in pubs reciting Burns to haggises. That kind of thing is, unquestionably, a fuckup.

But a fuckup is all it is. One of the great things about being British is that we have no need to hold on to conspiracy theories, because those who seek to subjugate us are so sodding incompetent that we inevitably find out about it. Our national broadcasting corporation has its incompetent moments too, but if you think it's pushing an agenda- for left or right, union or independence, Israel or Palestine, Beyonce or Jay-Z, or whatever- you should probably try projecting a little less. 

No. I'll go further. If you think the BBC pushes an agenda, you're a dick. You can go ahead and cry foul, but you *will* be being a dick as you do so.

Unless, of course, you'd rather our only broadcasters and news sources were paid-for, commercial ones. Good luck with that.