An ex-pat Brit, veteran playwright, monologuist, story-teller and poet. Via Yorkshire, London, New York City to Connecticut, USA.
My youth is being laid bare, if not laid waste laid unprepared, an acre-age of binding time, awaiting the permanence of my prime..
Only strangers stay young, feeding on change, enduring all with a whispered aside. “it must be strange to be old”..
Not really knowing what I want or why, I shall carry on until I die…
Biographical notes :
The May sun did not shine. It was a bleak day when he was born, bleak and windless. And the dark poplars that oppressed the stern avenue high on either side led his father round to no other conclusion : “the weather’s not too bright, Doreen!”
“Friday, Friday the thirteenth, Black Friday!” said his father. “Unlucky for some!” said his mother. “We live in hope!” reassured my father. “Some of us do”, replied my mother.
To rise in the morning with breath on your lips is purpose enough.
CASTLEFORD, WEST YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND, UK, EUROPE, THE WORLD…
A little piece of heaven right here on earth! To consider it hell would be a melodramatization. Purgatory might be a more equitable consideration, as many of its’ inhabitants seemed to be going to hell, if not always by personal choice. But some of the hell-raisers seemed to be enjoying themselves more than the limbo-inclined godly folk. On your feet in the pub or the dance-hall or on your knees in the church. Preserving a precarious balance seemed to be the best option. Accepting what we’ve been given and making the best of it.
To say I had a happy childhood would be no truer than saying I had an unhappy childhood. It was what it was. I never went without food or shelter and was only physically abused a few times by local bullies. But I was a well-sized lad with a responsive temper, so I could generally stand my ground. Of course I inevitably accumulated a requisite amount of guilt, shame and embarrassment which kept my ego in check and able to recognize my place in the hierarchical pecking-order, as manifested by the location and spaciousness of one’s home, one’s father’s profession ( distinct from your dad’s job), access to formal-dress cocktailed occasions, more exotic vacations, and, of course, good looks and superior clothing. We were respectable peasants. But so long as I could wander and play free in the streets or in the nearby woods, breathe common airy space on a regular basis, I felt I could make my life my own.
School was compulsory and the need for education unquestioned, nor were the teachers who obviously had an answer for anything a child could query. If they didn’t, they could readily look it up in the library. Everything one needed to know about who, what, why and where we were in this world. I was good at sums, spelling, handwriting, sports and drawing, so I was early marked down as somebody who could make something of their life. Elected “Boy of the Year” in my senior elementary class, I was awarded the complete works of Shakespeare. Becoming a success in this world seemed to be a doddle! Everything comes to those who get their homework right and hand it in on time!
Raised in a resolutely pop-cultured television-centered environment, my earliest literary influence (other than Enid Blyton) was undoubtedly Abbot and Costello. Though I could take or leave their comic slapstick antics, their fast-paced perfectly-timed pun-based repartees often left me mesmerized.
I wrote my first poem when I was fourteen. Decided it wasn’t just for girls, no matter how much my North Country working-class peasant upbringing had inclined it so. I was captain of the rugby-team, the biggest kid in the class at the time (not for much longer) so I figured I could get away with it, While my male classmates were opting for extra math, scince or woodwork, I oped for English Literature, the only boy in the class, studying Shakespeare’s “The Tempest and sundry Elizabethan poets, Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales and Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge”. We were assigned to write a sonnet in the Elizabethan manner, so I did. I was given a pat on the back and an A minus. Couldn’t imagine what was wrong with it, hard to tell with poetry, maybe he’d decided it was a little over-wrought and besides I couldn’t possibly have experienced such heartbreak at fourteen years’ old. Little did he suspect how deeply I was trying to break my own heart in the Elizabethan manner, just for the teenage romance of it all!
The following year we were introduced to a very different “love song”, J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament not so much over a broken heart as a broken spirit, hovering doom-laden over this workaday dilettante's coffee-spooning civilities, trapped in this urban limbic un-epically dyspeptic wasteland. At the same time D.H> Lawrence emerged into my literary canon, blood-red balls of fire pulsing in his verbal loins. requited and unrequited passions, both of which demanded feverish re-assessments of our more primitive urges. He seemed to be the peach poor old Prufrock didn’t dare to gobble on. I began to suspect it wasn’t love I was looking for it was passion, a fuller spectrum complexity of human-being. So I became even more over-wroughtly overwritten, with a compulsion that nobody should ever fully understand me, I was too profound for words. A few hits of “Finnegan’s Wake” I was soon spouting rhythmically surreal verbal compoundings that would baffle even Abbot and Costello! Fortunately or unfortunately I was confirmed in my path of perplexity when my English teacher awarded me first prize for a poem in the school-magazine, then asked me if I could tell her what it meant. One night in a youthful flush of enthusiasm I recited one of my least comprehensible opuses to me dad, who told me “any idiot could write that!” I challenged him to do it himself, he replied that he wasn’t an idiot! But what did he know about passion!?? I guess I’ll never know, cause he never tried to put it into words.
I was 25-years’ old, living in Balham, South London, sharing a house with five others, tending bar at a local pub for rent, food and pocket-money. One of the housemates took us all to see an actress-friend of hers in a new play in North London. I remember little about the play other than there was no discernible plot, no set, no props and “experimentally” scatological dialogue. But I have a vivid memory of the small black-box space and the un-anticipated proximity of the actors. Having been raised only on the conventional proscenium, curtain-up-down, determinedly picturesque backdrops of provincial Shakespeare, Oklahomas or Christmas pantomime spin-offs, that experience had a profound influence on me, Inspired me to explore the “London Fringe” further. I wandered alone through countless low-budget hit-or-miss theatrical adventurings.. Till one night I finished up as one of only five members of an audience in the back-room floor-space of an Art gallery in the Elephant and Castle area of South London. Three actors manipulating their own props as needed, barely three feet away from me, oblivious to the audience or dearth of it, proceeded to suspend my disbelief beyond anything I’d ever thought possible. I was mesmerized. It was magical. Transformed my perception of what live theatre truly could and should yet so frequently (in my opinion) fails to be. Intimate, committed and originating itself at the same moment it is re-discovering itself.