Monday, 28 June 2010

Rude Boys Go to Westminster (working title)

I have been prevented from sitting at the kitchen table and writing because there is cat vomit blocking the way. If Nicotine thinks that by throwing up between me and my writing surface she is going to stop me working on my treatment for “The Rude Boys go to Westminster” then she’s got another thing coming.

“The Rude Boys go to Westminster” is an alternative reality TV programme in which a group of handpicked lowlifes exchange places with politicians and spend a couple of weeks running the country. David Cameron swaps places with me and finds himself having to tip-toe from his attic room every morning, creep past the bedroom wherein lies the sleeping landlady and pick his prime ministerial way through the cat puke punctuating the kitchen floor.

V.O: Clearing up Nicotine vomit in the early hours of the morning isn’t the kind of thing David Cameron’s used to doing.
CUT TO: David at the G20 Summit, looking bemusedly on as Angela Merkel cracks a joke, Berlusconi cracks his face, Barack beams and Sarkozy slaps everyone on the back.

But there’s something more pressing than this: no one is reading my blog. You can’t even find it in search engines. According to my research it can apparently take a few weeks for your blog to start appearing in Google. But it nearly is a few weeks and it’s still not there. I’ve consulted blogger Help and I’ve done what Help advised me to do, which is to send the link to my friends. Friends have clicked on it. Some have actually read it. I’ve even left a comment on someone else’s blog, gawd help me (or rather Help help me), but only because Help told me that the way to get your blog noticed is by leaving comments on other people’s blogs. The trouble is, though, that no one has commented upon my comment. Perhaps it was a non sequitur. Whatever it was I am now stuck with this problem: my posts are being shot out into the blogosphere but remaining for the most part unread. They are also missing Google by several miles.
Perhaps what I should do is regard this blog as a private journal that I’ve accidentally left lying around in the bathroom. It’s just a matter of time before someone chances upon it and has the temerity to open it. But this approach is fraught with danger. If I assume no one is going to read it then I will apply neither taste nor discretion to the writing, and then if they do read it (in the bathroom or anywhere else) and find themselves lampooned or bitched about I will end up being sued for libel. Or on the streets.
Although I’ve mentioned my l-lady and various individuals a few times here already, I have so far gone to great pains not to bitch, being aware that even if I am not consciously bitching it might come across as bitching. Which takes me back to The Westminster Fight Club for Rude Boys. I mean, sorry, Rude Boys go to Westminster.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Snip

I met an acquaintance I hadn’t seen for a few years. ‘What are you up to?’ she asked. ‘I’m waiting to be cut,’ I replied. She looked blank. I explained my fear of being made a victim of George Osborne’s fiscal sadism. ‘Oh, I see,’ she said, ‘I thought for a minute that you were waiting to have some operation. Like the snip.’ We laughed, it not occurring to us that we are all, in a sense, waiting for the snip, and if not the snip then an operation that will involve snipping. Danny Alexander, young enough to be my grandson, announced more snips the other day. I read the list before going to bed and slept very well as none of his snippings involved me. 

But I can’t talk about politics. I don’t know the language. I can’t talk about landladies either because they’d kill me. She’s gone away for a few days, my l-lady, leaving me to feed Nicotine. Which is not a euphemism for my smoking habit (I don’t have one) but an allusion to the cutting up of M&S organic chicken and the feeding of it to a seventeen-year-old cat called Nicotine who has reached that grand old age precisely because she’s been on a rigorous life-long diet of bran biscuits and responsibly sourced meats. But at least I don’t have to pay any rent. Well, not until the landlady discovers my blogging activities and her inclusion therein. Oh, let’s throw caution to the wind and assume that the l-lady will be delighted to find she is being blogged about. After all, there’s only one thing worse than being blogged about, and that’s not being blogged about.

This is my sixth post and I still haven’t found a subject about which I can safely blog. There is IBS, of course, but is irritable bowel syndrome a suitable subject for blogging? To get to the point: have I got IBS? Does anyone, apart from me, care if I’ve got IBS? If I feature in the list of cuts in today’s budget and all I am left with is IBS and blogging, then what hope is there? An IBS blog. That’s where the hope lies. Unless the blog is cut as well.

Last Sunday I came perilously close to having a bowel explosion in the middle of Dalberg Road, Brixton. It would have been the fifth such incident in my lifetime, previous explosions having occurred in the queue for the boys' toilet in Mrs. Long's class at St. Winefride's Convent School circa 1968, in a disused outhouse on Battersea Rise, behind a stack of garbage cans outside a swanky Manhattan apartment block (significantly only a few weeks after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre) and, most recently, on platform 9 of Waterloo Station, where I found myself ducking down behind a workers’ hut one cold evening in 2001 and not so much opening my bowels as letting them have their say. Displaying great quickness of thought, I concealed the spreading lake of diarrhea beneath copies of The Evening Standard and Metro. The following morning I had to pass through the station again. I noticed, with a quiet satisfaction, that platform 9 had been cordoned off.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Russell Brand and other irritants

I didn’t want to write that name here. It gets quite enough exposure as it is. But I’ve just glanced to my left and seen a copy of The Guardian Weekend Magazine, its cover emblazoned with the image of the one and only, the over-exposed, RB. Which led me to think, very briefly, this: how has RB got to the position he’s got to when everyone I meet (including myself, having met myself a few years ago in Sainsbury’s) can’t stand him? Presumably there must be people out there who like him, but their paths haven’t crossed mine. A similar thing is going on with David Cameron. He’s got to be prime minister, his party having won twenty-six per cent or whatever it was of the national vote, and yet I don’t personally know anyone who voted for him. Adolf Hitler’s another one. Got to a very high position of responsibility, yet I never met anyone who liked him or admitted to voting for him. Presumably with Brand, though, the public, his fans, put him where he is today. Unless the whole thing is a mistake. He just happened, for example, to be in a film (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) that was a hit. The producers of said hit assumed that because RB was in said hit then he himself was a hit. Doesn’t necessarily follow. Another possibility is that audiences generally found RB intensely irritating but simultaneously enjoyed being irritated by him. It’s just possible. Even more possible with Cameron and Hitler.

Some old people, one is told, are only kept alive by their own complaining. “If she didn’t have anything to moan about she’d die,” they used to say about my Granny (they didn’t, actually, but I’ve got to support my claims somehow). My landlady (who shows no signs of ageing) is one of the most enthusiastic complainers I know and yet she’s recently decided to exchange the bustle of Brixton for an isolated trailer home near Taunton. ‘You’ll go mad,’ I said to her. ‘I won’t,’ she replied, ‘I’m an only child, I’m not a sociable animal, I can’t wait to be alone in the country. It’ll be lovely.’ ‘But you’ll have nothing to complain about,’ I said, ‘It’s what keeps you going. You relish confrontation.’ Similarly, although I complain about my landlady (and practically everyone else too) I probably enjoy complaining about her, just as she enjoys complaining about me. Sometimes to my face.

So, RB, Hitler, David Cameron and, to a lesser extent, my landlady and I are like that. They are irritants we cannot do without. Without which we would die. Absurd. Next topic. Instant messaging and how it’s got me in its grip.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

He who can does, he who cannot blogs

“I shouldn’t engage with reviews,” I wrote at the end of my penultimate post. And yet here I am about to do so. But I won't do it again. Certainly not after this particular post. Which is a word I don’t like and should therefore try not to say. All right. In this, the fourth p*** on my first ever blog (yet another word I don't like - what is it with me and words?) I will finally face up to reviews and words I don’t like. Oh, ‘cute’ is another one. ‘Grumpy old man’ is another three. But let us take them in order.

I’ve just had a few for The Poof Downstairs, although some of them shouldn’t be called reviews at all. They are penned, more often than not, by over-zealous computer geeks with scant knowledge of their subject and then posted on their b***s. They should be called ‘customer responses.’ The first time I did a (I’m going to have to say it) ‘scratch’ (i.e. a work in progress showing) of The Poof Downstairs up popped a bloggy customer response which described the work as ‘a nonsensical mess.’ She also wrote this: ‘The Poof Downstairs promises to be ‘the ultimate feel-good play’, but after an hour of listening to tales of disappeared stroke victims, abusive neighbours and the death of his mother, writer Jon Haynes clearly doesn’t have much to feel good about, and neither does the audience.’ Almost exactly a year later I received an awesomely bad review for the same show (headlined “Mad, skittish ‘monologue’ is a flop”) from the Bristol Evening News. Like Blogger 1, above, she also pointed out the dissimilarity between the show she saw and the one promised her in the blurb, as if I was somehow guilty of contravening the trades description act. I was. Deliberately. It was a joke blurb, describing a show that never happens, The Poof Downstairs being essentially one long introductory speech. There is no 'play' as described in the theatre's brochure. Lost on Blogger 1 and The Bristol Evening News, of course. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. People have always taken me too seriously. My colleague David Woods had the opposite problem when he was growing up: “When I was being serious,” he told me, “people always laughed, so I thought ‘fuck this, I’ll just do comedy.’ ” With me it’s almost as though I should go through life brandishing placards saying things like “It’s ok to laugh at this” or “I know I look serious but looks can be deceptive.” Though they’d probably take that seriously too.

The worst review I’ve ever had is also my best. My performance in our adaptation of Three Men in a Boat inspired this from Ian Shuttleworth, then writing for City Limits: “Jon Darke (the absurd name I was going under at the time), as narrator J, displays what Ken Campbell calls ‘the legendary minus effect.’ When he leaves the stage it seems more full.” Shuttleworth couldn’t have known it, I suppose, but what he described is basically the quality in acting to which I aspire. It’s the kind of acting that doesn’t walk up to you and shake you by the hand, the kind of acting that you hardly notice. So actually the best compliment a reviewer could pay me would be not to mention me at all. Difficult when it’s a one-man show.

I don’t envy reviewers. They are required, it seems, to identify meaning in the shows they see and then describe these meanings to their readers. But what if there is no meaning? Theatre, in my cynical view, a view that’s been formed, you could say, by my uptight response to reviews, means nothing at all. It is meaningless. Rather like life, actually. It is up to us as spectators to impose meaning upon it, just as with life we can choose to find meaning within it.

And I didn't even get onto words I don't like.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Sex in Football (slightly less reluctant post number 3)

England drew 1-1 with USA and I couldn’t care less. What’s more, no one could care less about my care less-ness. I have to try and get interested in football because I am writing a play on the subject, that’s just the simple truth of it. I thought one way in, for me, might be sex. Fancy the players. Go on, fancy the players. Go! Well, I’ve tried that, and apart from, predictably, Ronaldo and Drogba and to a lesser extent (though no hard feelings please in the unlikely event that you’re reading this) Fernando Torres, I haven’t had much success. The truth might be that although certain players (and I forgot to put in a word for Park Ji-Sung), can be distinctly alluring (sounds like a line from Alan Bennett) the activity in which they are engaged is demonstrably not. Let’s take Ronaldo. Go on, take him.

I’ve seen shots of Cristiano sitting in the changing room exuding sex and perspiration and body odour in equal measure. I’ve come close to what I can only describe as drooling over his image as captured by Annie Leibovitz and reproduced in Vanity Fair. I’ve ordered his evocatively titled autobiography (‘Moments’) from Amazon, read (more accurately, looked at) said autobiography, been transfixed by documentaries on the man, been charmed, mesmerized and…well, generally lost for words. But then I’ll watch him in action and it’s a quite different experience. In the heat of the match he appears to me all clenched muscle, arrogance, vein-popping determination, gaping spoiled little boyishness and, ultimately, sexless.

And as I watched the England team filing out onto the pitch at Rustenburg on Saturday (wondering whether the violent head rolling exercises Rooney was doing were an attempt to keep his temper at bay) I consciously laid myself open to be titillated. But it didn’t happen. In spite of his reputation John Terry doesn’t do it for me (nor does Beckham for that matter). It was only, I’m almost ashamed to say, Rooney who exhibited a glimmer of sex appeal. Yes, Wayne Rooney, the pitbull of soccer, the header of the year, the potential pin-up on my bedroom wall. Perhaps I’ve found a way in.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Arts cuts - blogs - why I've stopped reading The Guardian

The ‘Prime Minister’ David Cameron (a name that is featuring far too often here) made a speech last week in Milton Keynes about the impending austerity measures. They will be painful. They will affect every single one of us and their impact on British life will be felt for decades to come. Woe, desolation and doom. What hope is there for the artist in such a climate? Well, what this particular artist feels he has been doing lately is sitting around waiting for the chop, imagining a future in which he is condemned to a life of drudgery, all his aspirations in a pile on the floor. I glanced, the other day, at the blog of the theatre maker Chris Goode and saw that he is busy, his latest venture being a performance that you can book for your own home. You can pay for the event in advance via Paypal, or in cash on the night. Very enterprising. David Cameron (who, as he said in a speech last year, ‘gets’ enterprise) would be proud of him. There was also a little note in the right hand column of Goode’s blog, encouraging readers to make donations, very welcome in these lean, recession-hit times.

I don’t know why I am saying this (which is just the kind of self-deprecating admission I should try to curb – readers want confidence in their blogger). Very well, I do know why I am saying this. I occasionally look at other people’s blogs, and looking at them is precisely what has, until very recently, deterred me from starting my own.

I used occasionally to read The Guardian’s various blogs, and when I’m overseas I tend to read the online edition of The Guardian to keep up with events, though I’ve practically stopped looking at The Guardian since it gave me a 2 star review for The Poof Downstairs. Childish of me, you might say (you can say, actually, by posting a comment at the end of this post). I stopped reading Time Out several years ago (“I don’t give a damn about Time Out. Time Out’s a fucking asshole magazine” - Robert de Niro). This was perhaps only an age thing. I found one day that I was no longer part of the young, fashion-led, grab-a-coffee-on-the-way-to-work brigade and therefore didn’t need Time Out any more. Time Out gave me a good review for The Poof Downstairs (four stars and Critics’ Choice) but in spite of that fact I haven’t taken it up again, and won’t.

But other people’s blogs, yes. So I’ve glanced at Goode’s, I’ve looked at The Guardian’s, at Alison Croggon’s Theatre Notes, at Crysse’s blog (only because I was searching for reviews of The Poof Downstairs and found one on her absolutely marvelous blog) and I’ve looked at a few others and, well, I don’t mind them at all. This blog of mine could, it’s just occurred to me, be a blog that reviews blogs, though I imagine there are several blogs doing that already. Goode’s blog, then. Although I’ve never met CG in person, nor, for that matter, seen any of his work, I am quite sure that he’s a thoroughly good egg. He certainly comes across as one in his blog. I was drawn to his blog originally through searching for reviews of our show Tough time, nice time (premiered at the Barbican in 2008 and published by Oberon Books). His was a good review, I suppose, but it contained a hurtful criticism of my performance. Not just hurtful but, on examination, nonsensical. I should have left a comment on his blog at the time, expressing my hurt in no uncertain terms, but I didn’t want to be exposed as the kind of theatre maker who searches the internet for reviews of his work and then gets upset reading them. This is what he wrote: ‘The only unbelievable thing in the play is that Jon Haynes’s highly contained, uptight character has ever been fist-fucked.’ I had to read this sentence a few times before I realized what was wrong with it. It implies that I should have played the character as though he’d been fist-fucked, or in such a way that the audience could believe that he’d been fist-fucked. How could I have done that? Perhaps it might have worked if I’d spoken my lines in a sort of husky drawl, my bowels trailing behind me. It’s a bit like saying you should play a murderer as if he’s a murderer (with a club foot, hare lip and a bottle marked ‘Poison’ in one hand). People who appear contained and uptight, it is suggested, could not possibly have been fist-fucked. Well, I’ve been fist-fucked (only once, in Berlin). Do I look as though I have? I’ve no idea. The truth actually might be the reverse of what CG implies, that people who are highly contained and uptight are precisely the kind of people who do get fist-fucked, who in fact need to get fist-fucked, if only to seek temporary relief from their uptightness. All of which goes to show (does it?) that I shouldn’t engage with reviews.