So I led a couple of workshops with a group of contemporary dancers as I do sometimes via my relationship with Akram Khan. Whilst the group were working on an exercise, I remembered this little improv sketch that Akram and I made on the fly one afternoon for Saddlers Wells. I think it might still be my favourite youtube video that involves me. Check it out.
When I was eight, my father took me, my younger sister and his parents to the beach at Great Yarmouth. The sand was wet enough to build a boat to climb inside. The sea was dirty. There was ice cream.
What I remember the most though, was when we all went to the cinema in the late afternoon. The choices were Disney's The Aristocats, or James Bond The Living Daylights. My grandmother bought her and my sister tickets for The Aristocats and 'the boys' were going to watch James Bond. I wanted to watch The Aristocats really badly. I wasn't interested in James Bond. Even at eight, some smug man blowing stuff up and slapping women on the backside held absolutely none of my interest at all. Jazz musician felines on the other hand, that sounded to me like the best idea since The Black Cauldron.
I wasn't allowed to watch the Disney and had to sit through James Bond. Stuff blew up. People with hammy accents fell out of planes. Women got kissed. Eyebrows got cocked for the delivery of one liners and I sat there the whole time, imagining what the cats were getting up to on the other screen.
I can't stand James Bond. James Bond is a cardboard man who talks wood and shoots a little gun. The ingrained devotion to the character and monotony of the films is making my fingers bored just typing this.
That's cool, Stevey, you don't have to like him. He's not for everyone. You don't drink coffee either, all good. Thanks man, appreciate that. Can you do me a favour though, and ask them to stop making more James Bond films and use the money for something more interesting please? Or maybe make another James Bond where he gets experimented on and becomes half cat. Or has to fight forty five cats in a lift. Or maybe he just has a cat. That's it. The new James Bond is the story of a battered old man and his cat, as they work on their garden to make it hedgehog safe for bonfire night. There can be a Russian dog neighbour who is the baddy. And an old lady who comes to visit him and makes demeaning comments about his saggy features while he makes them tea. And at one point the methane build up in the compost could cause a small explosion that they all have to dive away from into the conservatory in slow motion.
What about the gadgets though? Fine. He's got one of those garden tools to ventilate the lawn with the detachable heads for different terrain. And there's a garden table that flips over to reveal a crossword. And the cat coughs up fur balls that are actually tracking devices that she spits onto pigeons so they know where the pigeons are for when they've got old bread that needs getting rid of.
We need a title. Course we do. Decking is Forever? Live and Lay Patio? Not sure. Hold on, I've got it.
James Bond: The Man with the Wooden Soul.
Perfect. Shooting starts next week, if it doesn't rain.
Two in one day? Yes mate. The double drop. Here is the audio of my favourite interview I've done to date about my writing. Such a privilege when somebody has read a story and wants to talk about it. Have a listen, see what you think. (Thanks Tanya).
So whilst writing my latest novel It's About Love I played around with different voices and ages and perspectives. I wrote pages and pages of stuff that became backstory and fleshings out of the people who made it into the finished book. The character of Noah in the story was very important and I wrote pretty much a full version of the story from his perspective. Here's a short extract from one of his first teaching jobs, a couple of years before the novel is set.
I can hear them through the door.
There’s a poster over the glass panel so they can’t see me.
I look up and down the empty corridor. In the classroom next door a girl squeals.
The glass has those thin black lines embedded into it to stop it shattering if it gets cracked. I rest the knuckles of my fist against it.
Punch through it.
I look down at myself. Battered shoes. My one pair of smartish trousers and the linen shirt Lisa gave me last birthday. I look like a social worker.
I should’ve shaved.
Deep breath. I open the door.
They’re big. Compared with the year sevens I took yesterday they look like monsters.
A few of them look up, most stay hunched over their phones. Just another supply teacher dressed like he’s in a guitar band.
Seems like a pretty mixed bunch. The haves and the have nots. The leaders and the followers. Last year before sixth form for some, last year full stop for others.
I always look for myself in the room. The kid who looks like how I felt at that age.
It’s not always a boy either, it’s got nothing to do with gender. It’s something else. How they move, the way they sit, their eyes.
Apart from one girl and boy, who are blatantly holding hands under the table in the middle, the room is pretty much split into groups of either or. A smug looking kid in the back left corner with a summer tan leans back in his chair sizing me up. Next to him another smaller boy is clearly his sidekick.
My eyes move over them all and I feel like Arnie in ‘The Terminator’, scanning the room, zooming in and out of faces, their individual data flashing up in the bottom left corner of the screen and then I spot me.
He’s sitting in the far right corner, next to people but he’s on his own. Not hiding, just giving himself a good angle to see what’s happening. He’s got his phone out, but he keeps stealing glances across the room.
I follow his eyes to a table of girls front left. Four of them are huddled round one phone in the hand of a girl with long straight black hair who is the clear ringleader. The fifth girl sitting with them is doodling with her head down, not interested in the phone. I can’t tell which one he’s looking at. The girl with the black hair holding the phone looks up at me and smiles.
I think of Lisa, sat at her work desk right now, chewing the end of her pen as she types, a hundred miles away.
Give them something
I look back to young me in the corner. His eyes are on his phone screen, but I can tell his head is somewhere else.
There’s a couple of ways I can play this:
I give it the drill sergeant, ‘you really don’t want to cross me’ type thing. That gives me a solid base to work on and lowers expectations right off. They’ve all heard it a thousand times before and just the lameness of it kind of relieves the pressure from them and me. Or
I give it a maverick one. I set it up like I’m unpredictable and possibly a little bit different to what they’re used to. This one is definitely more fun. It gives you license to play around a bit and the ones who warm to it, will really love you, but, and it’s a big but, if it doesn’t work, you’ve set up something that’s even more lame than the army approach.
It’s a simple matter of choice. You look at the group and you decide. Sometimes you choose right, other times you start digging a hole that you never fully get out of. Whichever stance you choose, the only thing that matters is conviction. You can be whoever you want, but they have to believe you.
Trouble is, when you’re a supply teacher, whatever you do, however you play it, underneath everything there’s always this unspoken sense that nobody actually cares.
Not them, not you. You’re a stand in who doesn’t even like teaching enough to go full time. Not today.
Today I’m Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’. I’m Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Coach Carter’. Today I’m- Do something
Gimme a pen, I’ve got an idea.
Day two and here's another extract from OLD ME. A little story that I remember often.
Easter bonnet competition. I’m 9.
First prize is a cassette walkman. I want one so badly. The letter from school says no adult help. I’ve explained to Nan how everyone else will pretty much get their moms to make it and how they’ll be amazing and I’ll never win. She won't help me. She made me do it myself. She said knowing I’d done it myself would feel like winning.
I stayed up til ten o'clock doing it. Went to sleep with felt and glitter in my hair. It was a cardboard cutout easter bunny dressed like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. His little glitter glove. Sugar paper Fedora. The square dancefloor forms the top of the hat. It was shit.
Everyone else got help and there’s were amazing. Chris Northall had a full crucifixion scene with a balsa wood cross and a little model Mary and everything and he couldn’t even draw a decent stickman. He won the cassette walkman.
I came home, rubbish Michael Jackson bunny hanging from my hand. I went straight to the kitchen to throw it in the bin in front of Nan. But she wasn’t there.
The kitchen was empty.
And there, on the table, was a brand new cassette walkman and a little note that just said,
“you did it love x”
Man. This website stuff is alright. Day one and I've already written a poem. Haven't done that for years. Here it is. I'm calling it 'Roll Out'.
There's transformers in the bath
Lego people in the sink
These toys have seen me naked and
I don't know what they think.
So this will be all sorts. Extracts from old pieces. Thoughts. Opinions. Biscuit reviews. Apologies. All sorts. And the whole time I'll be fighting not to rhyme all sorts with a line about how I miss AllSports. Damn it.
Here's a small extract from my 2011 feature length piece OLD ME.
When we were nine we used to make up kung-fu dance routines in the back garden to impress the girl next door but one. Sam. I don’t remember her surname. She was about 4 or 5 years older than us and obviously gorgeous. We’d make a den out of an old terry towelling sheet, get inside, strip down to our pants and plan our moves.
The buzz before we jumped out to perform.
What moves are you gonna do?
I dunno. what moves are you gonna do?
I dunno. Don’t copy me.
I’m not gonna copy you. What are you gonna do?
i dunno. Just do anything. but make it good.
How old is she?
14 I think.
I know, that’s why we’ve gotta be cool.
What if she laughs?
She won’t laugh. Why would she laugh?
What if she does? Why do we have to be in just our pants?
Shut up. Look if she laughs we tell her to eat shit and mud bomb her house later, yeah?
Right, come on
Me too, but we’re doing it
Are they my hulk pants?
You’re wearing my hulk pants.
you can’t wear my pants
Look are we going? she’s waiting
i want em back
Forget the hulk pants. I just wanted to wear good ones.
now I look boring. I could’ve worn the spiderman ones.
it doesn’t matter. just impress her with your moves.
i haven’t got any moves.
Don’t worry, just copy me.