Admin Cat! Gift.

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This weeks ADMIN CAT! 31/07/2014 #41 – Why not visit the ADMIN CAT SHOP ?

Admin Cat Gift copy

 

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Disproportion.

hammer nut

 

(Note: This story contains some mild descriptions of violence).

When I was a young teenager I was playing football on the playground at school in my dinner break with my friends. Not for the first time, a thug from our year came up and took the ball from us and started kicking it around to his mates. My friends and I were generally pretty meek people and had to put up this kind of thing.

This time, however, I decided to try and tackle the bully to get the ball back. When I did he fell over as a result and got his shiny new coat wet. I hadn’t intended to knock him over, that’s just what happened as he tried to shield the ball from me and I put a leg out to get at it. As I walked away holding the ball, I knew what I had let myself in for. This guy had a reputation for being pretty vicious. I’m not talking about ruffled hair or tipped out bags, I’m talking about violence.

I rolled the ball back to my friend and prepared to face up to the inevitable. He was approaching, red in the face, swearing and threatening me. Already a crowd had gathered. ‘Fight!’ they shouted, as usual. The bully was my height, but twice my build, with a shaved head and his fists clenched. I’d never been in a fight before, so in the few seconds I had to think about it, I decided I needed to do something.

I tried to punch him. It probably wasn’t the best decision, but it felt like the only possible way I could avoid it happening to me. I missed, having never thrown a punch before with the intention of actually hitting someone. He recoiled from my feeble swing, which was further impeded by my school bag falling off my shoulder and dragging down my arm. The next thing I saw was his knuckles coming towards my face. He didn’t miss. He didn’t miss the first time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the second time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the third time when my nose exploded in a cloud of scarlet and still I stood. I should have gone down.

After this he got me in a tight headlock. He was strong. His boasts and reputation were not unfounded. As I was held there, dripping from my nose onto his black trousers, he said to me, “We better calm this down now, there’s a dinner lady watching.”

At this I became angry. Up until that point it had just been a series of sharp pains and confusion, but that statement brought it into focus. How could I calm down the complete beating I was getting? I hadn’t started it. It had started long ago across all the stolen footballs, threats, beatings and taunts that most other people had to put up with at the whim of people like him on a daily basis.

I tried to act, but I don’t know how to fight. I tried to lift his knee to get him off me and topple him backwards. Instead, he brought it to my face, three times, further smashing my already popped nose. Then he let go, and I went to the office to get myself cleaned up. The next day I had concussion and couldn’t come to school.

Nothing of any real consequence happened to the lad. In theory I had started it with my  feeble attempt at a punch. Before that is was just playground squabbling. I had incited the violence that followed by my desperate attempt at pre-emptive defence.

What interests me with this memory, is whether this was a fair decision? Did I deserve the level of violence that I incurred because I tried to stand up for myself? My instinct tells me no, but the bare facts of the matter sound different. Consider this version of events:

Today at school someone tried to steal my football. I knocked him over and then tried to punch him. He defended himself and I came off worse.

It’s so easy to twist facts around to make the situation sound more two sided than it was, to try and engender sympathy for the disproportional response by glossing over the history and context of the matter. You may disagree with me and think I should of stayed my hand and waited till I was hit first, or gone down after the first punch and curled up in a little ball. You may think that I sacrificed any right to blame or victim status because I tried to do something rather than wait passively for something to happen that all reason and experience told me was certain.

You may think that, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

Owl Stretching Time – Pythons and Culture.

pythonfoot

Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.

As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).

This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.

I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.

Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.

Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…

Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.

As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.

There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples  such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.

 

Admin Cat! Cornered!

Admin Cat Face

This weeks ADMIN CAT! 17/07/2014 #39 – Why not visit the ADMIN CAT SHOP if you are into that kind of thing…

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Nothing to hide.

ministry of truth

Whatever your views are about state surveillance, privacy and liberty, it is (or should be) hard for anyone to not feel that the way ’emergency legislation’ was enacted this week to force through new data laws in barely a few working days was undemocratic and deeply worrying. Our elected ‘representatives’ have had no chance to adequately represent us in the time given, and the leaders of the main three parties made a pact behind closed doors to force this through parliament, so we had no alternative anyway.

The mantra being spouted by supporters of this legislation was ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?’. I can’t begin to rant enough about the short sightedness, stupidity and naivety of this view. So I wrote a poem instead. Here it is.

 

Nothing to Hide.

By Garry Abbott.

 

‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ said Clive, full of British grit and pride.

‘All you losers who think these laws are for snoopers,

must be sneaky cheaters, keeping secrets.’

 

‘What have you got to hide?’ sneered Clive, patriotic swell inside.

‘What do your emails entail that make you fail to see

that these powers are for your own security?’

 

‘If you’ve got nothing to hide’ asked Clive, steaming forth on moral high,

‘Why all the fear, about people trying to hear your pointless

conversations. Why the sudden protestations? Eh?’

 

‘They’re everywhere!’ said Clive, tabloids running though his mind,

‘I read it every day, how they want to take away

our way of life. So we’ll have nothing for ourselves.

We’ll be under their control in some fierce kind of hell,

where nobody trusts anyone, and the slightest dissent

is met with a boot in the face and we’re sent

off to work for our shelter, to work for our bread,

but it won’t come from our taxes,

it will be do or die, then dead.

And they won’t care, if we’re disabled or sick,

happiness means nothing when they can put you in the clink,

just for saying “I don’t want this!”

just for saying “things must change!”

just for saying “you’ve taken too much”,

things would never be the same!

Do you want to live in a regime,

like they show us on the news?

I’ll sacrifice my privacy,

there’s just too much to lose.’

 

‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ sighed Clive.

But all the time he’d lied,

because Clive likes to do a little extra on the side.

Just a little bit in pocket, he’s hardly Mr Rich,

but it helps him keep a little something back to treat the kids,

(especially since they cut down all his working benefits).

And now and then he’ll get a job, and tell them ‘cash in hand’

it’s not like he’s some big company, hiding tens of grand.

Then somewhere a light flashes, they’ve picked up every word.

An operative is positive, it’s evasion talk they’ve heard.

So a printer springs to life, and spews another letter,

“You’re due in court this afternoon. We advise you that it’s better,

to come clean, and pay the fine. Either way you’re doing time.

You could challenge with a lawyer, but the state won’t get one for you,

and if you lose, which you will, you’d be facing then another bill.”

 

‘But… I’ve got nothing to hide’ screamed Clive, as he cowered low and cried,

‘I’m not a terrorist, trafficker, dealer.

I’m not a traitorous whistleblower, stealer

of state secrets, designed to keep us

safe from ourselves and the shadows of the reapers.

Alright I made a small mistake,

but show me someone perfect

who isn’t on the take?

I’m part of this society!

Why are these laws being used on me?’

 

‘Why not?’ replied the Judge in session,

‘Now they are there it seems a shame to waste them.’

 

EPILOGUE

 

And true, Clive technically did wrong,

but some of you will never see

that even if he hadn’t,

our right to privacy,

isn’t just for hiding crimes

(no matter how petty),

but being safe to criticise,

challenge and defend

ourselves against corruption,

against those who may bend

and use these laws for their own ends.

 

The End.

 

Writing about pubs? Yeah, I can do that.

This week I was delighted to watch a performance by the fledgling Potboiler Theatre group of ‘Stories from Pub Corners’ – a collection of six monologues performed in situ at the ‘Holy Inadequate’ real-ale pub in Etruria, Stoke on Trent (best pub name ever?).

I have to declare an interest here as I had written one of the monologues. I first came across the call-out for writers with ‘experience of pub stories’ to come forwards and send a draft script to be considered a few months ago. ‘That’s me’ I thought, ‘I’m a writer, and I’ve been to like, loads of pubs – I even used to live in one!’. So I applied, naturally.

As a writer you tend to often find yourself isolated. That’s not a bad thing, it’s obviously easier to write somewhere quiet without interruptions, but it does mean that getting out and collaborating when the opportunity presents itself is usually a very good idea.

This particular production started (for me) with an initial meeting with the producer/lead writer following my submission of a draft piece based on some brief character outlines. A week or so later I met the full team of actors, the director, the other writers and the musician when we came together to introduce ourselves, talk about our experiences with pubs, get some ideas flowing and workshop characters. I got to see a section of my early draft acted out, which was a first for me and a very valuable experience that I hope to have again (I’ve heard my work acted out before on radio, or even acted it myself vocally – but this was my first live, in-the-room type workshop for a visual performance of my work).

I was struck by just how well the actors brought the characters to life off the page. You are always told as a writer to ‘read it aloud’ to yourself when writing scripts especially, but even so, not being trained actors, we can never quite know what to expect when it does fall into someone else’s hands and interpretation. I was more than impressed by what I saw. These guys were really good, and seeing them in action, even with extremely early draft pieces, really helped me to go away afterwards and keep the performance in mind when writing the next draft. And to top it off – we all went to the pub after the meeting to see the space (and drink some pints).

After that it was back to the office to write a new draft for a new character outline before a further script reading (at the pub), the next week. This is where the fun, and challenge, of redrafting comes in. Originally I had written for a character in her forties, but due to the actors we had available, she had to be replaced with a younger character. So, I got given the brief of ‘Mad Lee’ – a young lad with a story to tell about the crazy night he is still recovering from, having woken up in bed with an unusual keepsake. At the script meeting, myself and the other writers read through and discussed our draft pieces. Again the value of this approach was soon obvious. Having other writers give you honest and constructive feedback in the development stages can really help you to sit back from what you’ve written and sharpen it up. It’s all too easy in any project not to see for looking. Fresh eyes and ears are very helpful indeed.

As it happened, due to what I will call prop-acquisition uncertainty, a certain central premise of my draft needed to be changed, quite dramatically! This meant I got to go away and once again rework the script. I was happy for this change. It forced me to once again go over it, consider the plot and the motivations of the character and further try to judge how the audience would react.

After that, the final-ish draft of the script made its way to the group for rehearsals (which I couldn’t attend thanks to a pretty gruelling gig schedule that weekend for my other life playing original music) – so it was only at the first performance I was able to get along to see my character come to life.

And what a life! The nature of this project is that the action takes place in a pub, amongst the audience, as if the characters are just another punter who suddenly decides to pipe up. This was often signalled by the great use of a musician who would start to play a related theme on a guitar prior to the monologue, sometimes dropping back in to add tension or comedy touches to pertinent sections and tying together the evening.

I won’t go into details of the monologues in case of any future performances, but I will say that as an audience member, it was a unique experience. Sometimes the characters were sitting right opposite me and it felt like being in intimate conversation. Sometimes they were across the room, and I felt voyeuristic, as if listening in to a particularly interesting discourse in a public space. For the last two characters, I was stood up, watching the performance though the curvature of the ornamental wood carved screens, as if framing my own director’s cut. And everyone else in and around that room was getting their own unique perspective, able not only to see the actors performance, but the reactions of the other audience members in contrast to the ‘eyes forward’ of traditional theatre.

The nerves of waiting to see my own character perform dissipated as soon as he started speaking and I recognised him (not just the actor playing him, the character himself). There he was, sitting a few feet away from me, alive, telling and owning his story independently of me, like some weird fully grown man-child I had contributed to bringing into this world for a short time: flying the coup.

Needles to say, the rest of the monologues were fantastically written and performed, and the evening was by all accounts a big success. If you hear the name ‘Potboiler Theatre’ in the future, come along. If this is anything to go by, you are sure to be in for a treat.

(Below is the poster for the performance last Monday. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for any announcements of future performances or projects from the Potboiler crew!)

pub corners