Monthly Archives: September 2003

It’s The Thought

Mike and Julie were deeply moved by the garlic bread plate and spoon I gave them for a wedding present. Julie thought it was really lovely. It was a sweet card with a touching message which tumbled through my letterbox shortly after their honeymoon. It was also a little disturbing because not only had I not given them a garlic bread plate or the matching spoon, but I hadn’t actually got around to buying them a gift in time for the wedding at all.

Four months later I still haven’t thought what to buy them but they don’t seem too bothered. Yesterday I donated my nice casserole dishes, some storage containers and a book of household management to their kitchen before we all headed over to the car boot sale at St Albans railway station. Mike and Julie had stacks of stuff to sell and so did I. We laughed as our trestle tables sagged under the weight. Books, CDs, saucepans, crockery, a garlic bread plate…

Actually, my friend Lucy has gifted me the best car boot sale goods over the years. There was blah and blah and blah blah. Oh, and let’s not forget blah. Okay, I forget what they were. They were very popular though. Especially the ones I marked down to one pound. To be honest, I didn’t sell everything Lucy’s ever given me. No, not the uber-trendy eyewear for skiing. That stays, and so does the green clock plus some other cool stuff. Star Wars tie? Fifty pee.

Talking of gifts, my favourite gift in the past seven days has been one I sent to Thailand. First, the back story. Many years ago I lived in a shared house with scottish Ken and Tik, his Thai wife, plus Pete, the photographer. Five nine nine St Albans Road, Garston. It was mad from day one.

Ken and Tik argued that they should only pay one third of the bills because they shared one room. Pete and I thought a quarter each was fairer for four adults. Somehow a compromise was reached but it was never completely comfortable after that. Ken and Tik would close all the doors and filled the fridge with their weird stuff which included bags of dehydrated octopus and starfish. Pete and I waited until they went on holiday and threw wild parties.

Woven through this rich tapestry was the thread of the Yellow Towel. I owned two towels–one blue and one yellow. Every day I would wash my hair and hang my yellow towel on the radiator to dry. Every day, Ken would go into the bathroom after me and take the towel off the radiator, complaining that it ate all the heat. Poor wee laddie.

Ken never tired of removing the towel from the radiator, even when he wasn’t actually using the bathroom. I never tired of putting it back. Day after day. Week after week. Pete changed girlfriends three times, maybe four. I think the Christmas cards eventually read “Pete and (insert name here)” but the yellow towel remained a constant companion.

Ken sometimes tried hiding the faithful towel behind the chair but I found it and hung it back on the radiator. Pete moved out and another guy moved in, a guy who made great curries to compete with Ken and Tik’s fabulous Thai food (they weren’t all bad). And the jolly jeu jaune continued. Eventually I moved out to live with Pete and Jeremy in another house in nearby Bushey. Ken and Tik went to live in far-flung Thailand and we never saw them again. Almost.

One day, three or maybe four years ago, I was walking through Kings Cross underground station. The old drunk regular was slumped semi-comatose over his guitar, wailing and mumbling and strumming random chords to his audience of Tennants cans. I was speed-walking to keep the experience down to a bare minimum.

Suddenly, I recognised a face. It was Ken. Ken Scott! After all this time, walking towards me. “Ken Scott!” I cried. “Keith Jefferies!” Hail, fellow and well met! You get the idea. We chatted a bit, compared notes. He’s divorced now, living in Thailand with his new wife. His ex-wife lives somewhere near Watford. Ken works for a tourism agency. He gives me his card. Two copies. One for Mike. Yes, the same Mike. I put them in my bag and we head on to our respective trains.

Next time I see Mike, I give him Ken’s card. “Great!” he says. “I must get in touch with him.” Then he forgets about it and loses it somewhere. I lose it too until just a few months ago when I rediscover it at the bottom of my sports bag. So I drop Ken an email about visiting Scotland and what we might find there. He writes back. Haddock, he says. Haddock and chips.

Now, twelve years after living with Mr Scott, I’m cleaning out the loft and, lo! What is this in a forgotten carrier bag? Why, it’s a yellow towel. It’s *the* yellow towel. Old, frayed, tatty. Mm. Yellow. Mmmmmm. It would be wrong to put it in an envelope and post it to the Pacific Asia Tourist Agency in Bangkok. So I put it in an envelope and post it, complete with customs form. “Contents: yellow towel; value: nil.” It’s a fly on the wall moment.


Two weeks ago I was sitting in blissful ignorance, surrounded by a lifetime’s accumulated crap. I shuffled the stacks of paper to opposite sides of the coffee table making room for my feet and, as an exercise in pointlessness, I picked up the phone, dialled the estate agent. For the third time that week. “Why haven’t you called me back?” I asked. “What’s going on?” Mr Bluebird flew off my shoulder and into the microwave where he exploded in a puff of feathers.

The estate agent apologised and pledged her renewed allegiance to the flat. Two minutes later, she called me back. “I just spoke to the vendor’s solicitors and they’re all ready to exchange contracts on Friday. So you need to talk to your solicitor.” So I called him. “So, are we all ready to exchange contracts on Friday?” I ask. “First I’ve heard about it. The vendor’s solicitors haven’t spoken to me in months.” Again I call the estate agent who doesn’t return my call. Ever.

This is taking far too long so I phone Mrs Garrett, the vendor’s mother. Between us we bypass everyone and sort everything out. I sign the contract and the solicitors do the exchange on the Friday. Things start happening. And then they start happening really fast.

Within no time at all I’ve met with an immigration lawyer. He tells me what I need to know and recommends a tax lawyer. Then next day, by coincidence, I’ve got the visa papers from the USA. I return them immediately. Suddenly they reply. I have an appointment to get the fiance visa. Hoorah! I’ll be with my Laura! And in only a few more weeks. Almost before I know it, I’m in the loft, I’m emptying cupboards. I’m packing. Wow. I didn’t know I owned so many comic books. They seem to be in every carton and suitcase. Somehow I find time to sell Mrs Garrett all my furniture, the fridge and a kettle.

And then, yesterday, I met with a tax attorney. Yes, a real live tax attorney all the way from LA. She wears a white T-shirt with a dark suit jacket and, as well as the tax thing, she does production law for TV and film. She also collects snow globes. There are millions of them, okay dozens, shelves full, all around her office. “Michigan is very cold,” she tells me, which seems strangely ironic for a Los Angelino who surrounds herself with fake snow. Nevertheless, she’s friendly and helpful and I instantly like her. She tells me about getting a social security number and capital gains tax (which I won’t have to pay, hurrah!).

In the middle of all the above, somehow I finally get The Car mixed and graded. Yes, I know I said it was finished on the screening invites. I lied. Sue me. Hey, I have a lawyer, so ner ner. Anyway, both the grading and mixing are surprisingly easy (like this lapsing into the present tense thing) so I don’t bother writing about them. Gary the grader makes all my shots match and Mike the mixer makes all the sound balance, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt, job done. All ready for the big move and the big movie.

Serendipity. Everything coming together at once. It felt serendipitous to get the moving date sorted on the house just as the visa was coming together. And it felt serendipitous too to find a tax lawyer who also handles film production law at just the right time for moving to the US. And look at that. Looky looky! I am, as I say, lawyered-up. It’s almost like being a citizen, except for that thing of not having a vote while still paying taxes. It’s as real as Coca Cola. It’s real. It’s actual. Everything is satisfactual.

The Office Quote Book

“You’ve started a profound quote book, have you?”
– Ken Scott, noticing these jottings being made in a notepad at the Watford Observer between October and December 1990.

“Got a second?”
– Peter Wilson-Leary, Watford Observer Group Editor, repeated every day

Lucy Parks talking to reporter Richard Arquati about his construction workers story: “I would have jumped on their tools.”
News editor Frazer Ansell observing Lucy: “She’s fucking mad. She gets too many E numbers.”

“We are doing our best to put other people’s mistakes right. Sometimes in doing this, we make other mistakes.”
– Malcolm Waller, deputy editor

“I’ll take that on board.”
– PWL every day

“I remember the old News Chronicle…”
– Malcolm Waller, every day


Chris Beech talking about office computers: “I think that’s what we’d call in the trade ‘a false economy’. But then we would because we’re pretentious like that. Other people would call it a waste of money.”

“I love my computer. It works so beautifully at the moment.”
– Malcolm, famous last words

“Why do I always have to be Eeyore?”
– Chris

“This machine’s playing up again!”
– Malcolm, not long after the above and again every couple of days

Keith to Malcolm as he opens a stationery consignment: “Have you got a couple of dog turds in there I can use instead of this PCS [typesetting] junk?”
Malcolm, looking up: “Yes!”


“We’re trying to be a community newspaper and that includes putting everything in that happened in this area.”
– Malcolm, every week

“I have done, would you believe, a piece on the M1 Link Road.”
– Simon ‘Scoop’ Berlyn

Chris, to me: “Have you subbed [edited] it?”
Keith: “Well, I’ve read it half-heartedly. That’s the same thing isn’t it?”
Chris: “For you, that’s pretty in depth.”

“I’ll tell you what. I’ve got a real problem actually. The council offices scheme has become a roaring great controversy.”
– Simon running on auto-hype

“If you call someone a ‘duck murderer’ is it libelous?”
– Richard Arquati, asking the important questions.

“Bugger the inspiration. Just get on with it.”
– Malcolm Waller

“I’ll book the photographer for 25 past cos they’ll always be late.”
– Frances Lewis optimistically talking to a contact


Fiona Duffy, women’s page editor, regarding some fashion pictures:
“It’s nice, but you wouldn’t wear it would you?”
Chris: “I’d rather eat my own head.”
Simon B: “You don’t want to give yourself indigestion.”


Features writer Ken Scott was married to a Thai girl whose complicated name was customarily abbreviated. After bumping into her one lunchtime, Chris Beech was heard to say: “We just saw Ken’s Dik in town.”


Simon Berlyn: “Why is sport always later finishing than anything else?”
Sports editor Ollie Phillips: “I’m afraid we try to get today’s news in Simon, not Monday’s.”
Simon: “The only news today is how long you’ve taken to do your pages.”


Keith: “I’ve lost my list of good ideas.”
Chris: “It was so small, it was only a matter of time.”


Frances: ‘I just couldn’t bee-leeeeeve it!”
Malcolm: “Well, she’s genuine is she? This seventy year old?”
Frances: “Oh, ab-so-lute-ly!”
Fran, getting impatient with Malcolm’s changes to her copy: “You’d rather have something that’s not too accurate?”
Malcolm: “Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!”


Arts editor Grelle White discussing property with features editor Ken Scott:
Grelle: “You should move to Streatham. My son’s just moved in and he’s really comfortable.”
Ken: “And it’s only a four hour drive in?”
Grelle: “No, but it’s really nice in Streatham.”
Ken: “Grelle, you’re not too old to be spanked.”
Chris (aside): “You’re not too old to have your fingernails pulled out.”


Simon Berlyn: “Do you want to have one sort of amorous fling with me before the menopause is over?”
Lucy: “No, I don’t. Thanks for the offer.”
Simon: “It’s strange really because I always fancy the people I like least.”
Lucy: “What a bizarre person you are.”
Simon: “I always think of myself as one of life’s originals.”
Chris Beech (aside): “One of life’s throwbacks.”
Simon: “It’s nothing personal, I just hate everybody.”
Chris, spotting a coincidence: “That’s uncanny.”
Simon: “I think you talk in ironic terms.”


Malcolm: “Actually they’re loveable warm creatures these daleks. Ek-stir-min-ate!”
Chris: “Hey! I thought I was sitting next to a dalek!”


Keith: “Did you know ‘fog’ backwards is ‘gof’?”
Vince: “I think that’s one of the nice things about life, Keith. It’s a constant voyage of discovery.”

Chris: “I remember you — you used to work here.”
Keith: “I deny that.”
Chris: “You used to sit over there and do bog all.”
Chris, several days later, re-reading the above: “Can I add to that now? You used to sit there and do bog all badly.”


“I’m not a snob but one can’t help feeling one doesn’t want to mix with such social outcasts.”
– Chris excusing himself from an office outing


Keith: “English is my illegitimate offspring.”
Chris, watching me write this into the book: “I don’t think you can put your own unfunny quotes in there.”

Malcolm: “I think the whole media is rife with nepotism.”
Keith: “No it’s not, dad.”
Chris: “The trick is knowing which bum to lick when. Don’t put that in—they might realise I’m a bum licker.”


“I’m not going mad tonight.”
– Chris discusses the evening’s drinking strategy before heading to the bar

“I do feel unwell. I think I’m going to have to go home and lie down.”
– Chris with a raging hangover the day after.


Mike from advertising: “As Ken’s not here will you take care of that for him?”
Lucy: “Yeah, put it in here.”
Mike (dropping envelope in what looks like a slot under the desk): “Is that an In Tray or something?”
Lucy: “No, that’s the bin.”


“Honestly it’s no joke being a topical cartoonist, Keith. Christ knows how Giles gets on.”
– Terry Challis, Watford Observer cartoonist

Keith: “Well, what can I do to achieve excellence?”
Group editor PWL: “Nothing at the moment, Keith.”
Keith: “My first exercise in futility will be switching on the computer.”
Chris: “Hey, it’s what you do best.”
Keith: “You always go home at the end of the day. It’s what I’ve noticed about you.”
Chris: “It’s what I do best.”
Malcolm: “Right, it’s industry full steam ahead!”
Chris: “Shovel some more coal in the back of the computer…”


“Simon Berlyn’s an objectionable little runt. He should grow up and become a professional journalist.”
– local MP Cecil Parkinson, as reported by Jeremy Austin from a phone call to the office, which elicited the following responses:
News editor Frazer Ansell: “I’ve never liked Cecil Parkinson until now.”
Reporter Charlotte Adcock: “Did he sound as oily as he looks in real life?”
Jeremy replying: “My ear had to be syringed out.”
Chris: “So I don’t suppose we’ll be getting a scoop out him then?”
Simon: “I wasn’t sure of the meaning of that word but I’ve looked it up and it’s pretty objectionable. It’s Parkinson all over, slimey toad. If he thinks I’m a runt I can think of a word I’d use to describe him that rhymes with runt that’s more apposite actually.”


“Wouldn’t it be great to have a car that you were not too bothered about?”
– Christine Musgrove, TR7 driver


Keith continuing a discussion about what to do with a girl from the printing department if you were stranded on a desert island: “If it was a choice between reproducing and starving…?”
Chris: “I’d bud.”

Keith, pointing to picture on the wall next to Jeremy Austin’s desk: “Last question—did you have sex with this woman?”
Jeremy: “Yes. But she wasn’t there at the time.”

Keith: “Whatever happened to Malcolm Vallerius? About this time, he?d be calling for a knob inspection.”
Malcolm: “He clearly missed out by not doing national service.”


“No matter what time I stop here they still keep me standing here til five o’clock like a cunt.”
– John Batchelor, the most miserable man in the printing department.

“The editor’s indecision is final.”
– Ken Scott

“I don’t help no fucking empire builder.”
– John Batchie to Ken


“Did you ever feel that life’s ‘warm up man’ never turned up?”
– Pete Stevens, 1991

Lofty Ideas

Gary’s overflow is leaking. It’s been leaking for six or seven weeks now. A constant trickle of stale smelling water dribbling out beside his drive. He stopped me last week–actually, I couldn’t avoid him because his mate had expertly parked a Range Rover partway across my drive. Obviously doesn’t want to get those delicate 4×4 front tyres wet in the overflow spill.

“Hey, Keith! I’ve been meaning to have a word with you about this leaking water.” Oh, yes? “Yes, I thought it was me. But have a look…” He showed me the pipe. It goes back though his shed, into the adjoining wall to my shed… My shed. Ah. It’s my pipe. My overflow is leaking. It’s been leaking for six or seven weeks now…


Still, shouldn’t be too hard to fix, should it. It goes up into the loft where, presumably, there’s a water tank and a broken ball valve/stopcock. All I have to do is find the tank and replace the valve. While I’m at it, it might also be a good idea to get all the crap down from the loft. Especially since I’m moving out in two weeks.

Today was the day. Balancing on the wobbly kitchen chair, I climb up on the back. I brace against the wooden beams, rubber soled training shoes walk Spider-Man-esque up the cupboard door and I’m there. In the loft. Maybe I should use a ladder but where would the fun be in that? No, thrill-seekers, if you want a frisson of excitement in your Sunday, then climbing up to dangerous spaces on the backs of chairs is the way to go.

Risk reminds me I’m alive. Thirty minutes later, I’ve manouevred half the loft contents down to the floor below. Mostly empty boxes. Where did all this crap come from? Why did I keep it? Note to self: don’t keep any more crap. While risk reminds me of life in the present, crap reminds me of life in the past. Emotional baggage. Real baggage. It’s a pain to sort out.

Last week I was sorting through a huge stack of comic books trying to decide which ones to keep and which to give away. I took out about 15 and a complete series called The Kents. I felt vaguely uneasy about offloading any of them. Now I realise I was merely tinkering at the edges of a much larger problem. Half the contents of my loft fill nearly all the floorspace of my flat.

Eventually I make my way to the far end of my roof space, the place where the pipe should exit down into my shed. It’s a section that drops down, over the stairwell. I shine the torch down into the void to find the water tank. Except–there is no water tank. There’s nothing. Just rockwool insulation everywhere and a thin layer of plasterboard sloping down over the stairs to an empty space above the front door.

Where is the tank? Where is the pipe? Is it under the rockwool? I’m not putting my hand in to find out. It’s nasty stuff, that glass fibre. Once it’s in your skin, it never comes out. Ever. At least that’s what my dad told me a long time ago, when I was a kid.

I suspect it was to discourage me from going up into the loft. Now I’m discouraged by the dark void where the pipe might be and the fragile looking plasterboard which I know is all that would be stopping me plummeting down to my own staircase. Why would someone hide pipes like this? It makes no sense at all.

I shrug, give up and go back down into the living room where I regard all the boxes. It’s going to fun crushing all those unwanted videotapes over at the dump. It will be a joy to free myself of the baggage of old kettle cartons, crating for light fittings and flattened blueprints of Gotham City stolen from the bins at Shepperton Studios when they filmed Batman. It’s not going to be so much fun paying out for a plumber to sort out the leak.

It will have to wait. I find an original series Star Trek communicator still boxed among all the other crap. Enterprise. One to beam up. I’m moving. I’m gone. Meanwhile the constant stream of stale smelling water dribbles relentlessly beside Gary’s front door.


Couple of weeks back I added Fate & Fortune and Last Train to the Internet Movie DataBase. Apparently it takes seven days to three weeks to build the entry when you add a new film. They need links to external sites like festivals for verification and that takes time. Also mine had lots of new people who weren’t on the imdb already so I’m guessing that slows it all down a lot.

It’s interesting clicking the link every few days and seeing what new bits have been added. It’s kind of like seeing a small seed sprout a shoot then put out leaves as they build information incrementally. It started with just the film name. Then the people already on imdb were added, like Simon Cozens and Simon Ricketts.

Lately the synopsis for F&F (I didn’t do one for LT) has appeared and somewhere along the line, links to the official site were added. Latest update is some more tech specs. I guess another reason for it being such a ponderous process is because imdb is one huge set of interlinking pages and someone has to manually check each one as they go up.

As I say, it’s like seeing a plant grow. Fascinating. Eventually it will flower. You know: fame, fortune, bright lights, the ever-elusive barrel of monkeys and tons of addictive substances to control the voices. In the meantime, I’ve got your opening grosses–right here in my pants.

Troupes Long Past Revue

The Lights Are Warm And Coloured. The story of a serial killer. A suspenseful dark comedy for theatre. Promises promises. If you’ve ever sat in an airing cupboard over winter watching a hyacinth grow from bulb to flower, you’ll be familiar with the pace of this play. Lizzie Borden took two acts, and gave the audience forty winks. When they all left by the door, she gave reviewers forty more.

Grelle was less than amused.

Mike, my friend of many years, had come with me to see a Centralian Players production in the village of Abbots Langley. As I was reviewing it for the local paper, I had free tickets, so I’d told Mike we’d get dinner afterwards. My treat. On expenses. Partly. I only got a measly £2.50 maximum meal allowance but still, dinner was to be commensurate with the quality of the performance. If it was really good, we were destined for the finest curry house in town.

It wasn’t good. It wasn’t even mediocre. We ended up sat in a car park in Garston eating junk food. “I can’t believe you,” said Mike, around a mouthful of Big Mac. “We should have left in the interval. Like everyone else.” I nodded, digging into another handful of fries. I’d never left anything in the interval. On the other hand, I’d never been to anything as dire as this. The rain spattered relentlessly on the windshield as we recalled how appalling this amateur effort had been.

The audience had been outnumbered by the cast to start with. The tea break made it worse. As the curtain rose on the second act, apart from ourselves, there was just one other person left in the large village hall. I felt duty-bound to provide an honest review as the actors spoke shyly to the scenery lest they catch our eyes while fluffing their lines. The most intelligible dialogue came from the prompt whose voice boomed out clearly across the empty theatre.

With the exception of the lead player’s bright suit?a suit which would have delighted George Melly or Rupert the Bear? The Lights Are Warm And Coloured barely achieved tepid and monochromatic. It plodded. It ambled. It shuffled. It shrugged and died, right there before us. It was uncomfortable to watch but for the fact I knew how much fun it would be pulling it apart. Oh, this was going to be grand. High on grease and carbohydrates, Mike and I laughed like drains as we gave it the last rites.

Next day, I wrote up the sorry saga starting with the hyacinth analogy and finishing with a comment on costume departments stuffed with comedy trousers. Poison flowed tappity tap from my keyboard to the screen and I buried the hapless Centralians under six foot of scorn. I salted the earth, or rather the boards, trodden by these purveyors of pap in an effort to ensure they never inflicted such misery on anyone again. It was incredibly funny stuff, every line a gem, every paragraph a self-indulgent joy to behold. As was often the way, I was full of myself.

I transferred it to Grelle White, the arts editor, for publication in the Go section, our arts and entertainment pages, then I started working on something else. I watched furtively to see when she read it. I knew when the moment came. Her eyes bugged. She stopped reading and looked up. She waved me over, imperatively.

“Keith, what is this?” Grelle asked, incredulous.

“It’s fair comment,” I replied. “They were dreadful.”

“But were they really this bad?”


Wearing a satisfied grin is not a good way to look innocent and I certainly wasn’t looking innocent then. The Grin of Badness was upon me. I had amused myself and was feeling greatly pleased. Grelle’s a good person; she doesn’t understand unkindness. She didn’t see why I should be so pleased. And she certainly didn’t get my sense of humour.

“Well, I think you’re being too unfair. Good grief, if those poor people read this, they’d never act again,” Grelle said.

“Which would be a good thing!” I said.

“In your opinion. They’re just amateurs.”

“They charged for tickets. The few people who had paid left in the interval. They were just wasting people’s time.”

“Well, they weren’t wasting their time. You know, there’s other reasons to belong to a local drama group than appearing in front of an audience.”

This stopped me in my tracks. What? Was this some kind of parallel universe logic? Maybe some strange notion Grelle had brought over from Denmark where the high latitude and strange weather played tricks on the mind?

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“People join a local theatre company as a social activity. There’s pleasure in it for them to be part of this group, organising, rehearsing and putting on a play.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Well, there was no pleasure in it for me. Or for the rest of the audience.” I countered. “They could go and join something else, something less public. Pottery classes, perhaps.”

But Grelle wasn’t having any of it. “Keith, this is just too harsh. You’ve crossed the line into cruelty. Go and take out everything you think is funny. It’s not going in like this.” And so I emasculated it of ridicule and the Centralians review was published. It was still scathing, but now my copy was as lukewarm as the play. They’d be less likely to read it and more likely to use it for wrapping up fries at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

As it turned out, someone must have read it because a few days after publication, a letter turned up from one Gerald Holm. “A few lines in the Go columns of your paper alerted me to an amateur production of a play about Lizzie Borden?? [surely you jest, I thought] “The Centralian Players turned out to be a highly accomplished body of actors? I could not have seen it done better at Hampstead Theatre or at the Palace Theatre, Watford?”

That didn’t say much for Hampstead or Watford, did it? Hello? Hello? Earth to Gerald, come in please! Hmm. Gerald Holm, that name looked familiar. Not with the space program, no. I wondered which local theatre company I’d seen his name associated with. Nevertheless, our esteemed editor published the whole steaming crock in the letters page.

The trouble was, I’d been spoiled. The week before, I’d taken Mike to see something else: Terra Nova at the Abbey Theatre Studio, performed by The Company of Ten. The Company of Ten were also amateurs but this had been breathtaking. This production of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s desperate journey to the Antartic and the doomed expedition to the South Pole remains to this day one of the finest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. We sat on hard plastic chairs two feet from actors who performed before a backdrop made up of silk parachutes.

The acting was superb. We were held spellbound throughout the entire thing, the rigid seating forgotten along with the rest of the world as we were magically transported to the frozen wastes. This was how theatre should be. I remember Les Peacock as Captain Oates shedding a tear as the bitter cold froze off another body part. Aurora Borealis projected in soft colours on the icebergs behind and we were there, with him, feeling his pain.

It was absolutely fantastic. If I was going to the theatre, I wanted more of the Company of Ten and less of the Centralians. Grelle’s agenda, however, was to please everyone. She figured the Centralians would be around forever, longer than I’d be there at least. She also had four pages to fill every week and one good play a year wasn’t going to do it. My quest for artistic integrity, for dramatic purity was thwarted. Almost.

The thing was, Grelle did have those four pages to fill, come rain or shine. And there were a few rounds of golf to squeeze in too. Time and space were on my side. I knew that one thing Grelle wasn’t interested in reviewing but which remained popular was a horror movie. In fact, no one was interesting in reviewing them. Opportunity knocked. I happened to mention one day that I’d gladly take on writing up this drek and Grelle cheerfully agreed. That’s how I ended up sitting in the front row at Mr Young’s preview theatre in Soho, a beer in one hand and a bacon sandwich in the other, watching Phantasm II, a woeful tale of zombies running amok.

It was staggeringly poor. The Centralians no doubt watched this kind of thing in their master classes, taking most of their cues from the living dead. Even the free T-shirt I’d been given as a competition prize quivered in its bag under the seat, shocked that it could have been chosen to market something so feeble. I nevertheless wore that T-shirt with perverse pride for years to come.

On the way back I found myself concocting ever more amusing ways of sticking it to this tripe. Standing on Farringdon station, I read through the programme notes for inspiration and found the same director had also made Phantasm ten years earlier when he was a mere 25. Somehow he’d been let out of wherever he’d been locked up in the meantime, I reasoned. Lost in this reverie, trains thundering past on the tracks opposite, I didn’t notice a shadowy figure coming swirling up the dingy platform, trademark trenchcoat billowing behind him. It was Jon Challis.

Now, Jon Challis was deputy to the head of St Albans Leisure, a private company which had taken on the role of managing the districts sports and leisure facilities. Mid-thirties, smartly dressed, a go-getter, hungry for success. That was Mr Challlis. On a journalist’s expenses form, he was good for 14 miles, round trip. A not altogether unvalued contact, in fact. Tim had a saying for him, as he probably had a saying for everyone. “How do you know Jon Challis is lying? His lips are moving.” Nevertheless, even Tim had to admit, the management of St Albans Leisure made things happen and got things done.

“Keith! How are you doing?” Jon said, squeezing my hand and pumping my arm like a publican serving free beer to a winning rugby team. “I’m good, John. Very good. I’ve just been to see a film.” “Sounds good. Was it?” “I’m afraid not…” And that’s how we fell into conversation for the journey home. As it turned out, John was actually an interesting traveling companion, at least for that thirty minute train ride from Farringdon to St Albans. We spoke of films and the entertainment industry. Somewhere along the way, John asked me, “How’s work?” “Dull,” I admitted. “But… I do have a few ideas…”

Following Tim’s admonition about Mr C’s lips, I was a bit reticent. But I was also wildly enthusiastic so it wasn’t hard for him to draw it out of me. “Well,” I said, “what I’d like to do is get into TV and film making myself.” “Any luck so far?” “As it happens, I’ve been taking a few courses.” We talked on about films and film making, and also about the possibilities for local television. Our train pulled into St Albans Station and we parted cheerily.

Some time later I bumped into Jon again–although he appeared on several expense claims in the meantime. I happened to mention that I’d been talking to the local cable company who weren’t really doing anything much. “Oh,” John said, “well, you should come over to the local council offices some time and see the new information system we’ve set up for them in the foyer.” “Okay,” I promised, but that was later. Right then, I was ready to hammer Phantasm II with a barrage of keystrokes that would have made Freddy Krueger wince.

“I love film. I love all kinds of films. Except this one.”

Several weeks later, at a training session for junior journalists, I showed the editor of another local paper the two theatre reviews and the Phantasm II piece (which Grelle had left untouched) as they had appeared in the Watford Observer. “Nice,” he said. “These could count towards your training log if you like.” “Well,” I admitted, “that isn’t how the Centralians one originally looked.” I pulled out a print out I’d kept with the introduction about growing hyacinths and passed it to him.

It’s rare to see someone laughing out loud at your copy, especially when you’ve been led to believe it’s so self-indulgent. I savoured the moment. “This is great stuff,” he said. “Why didn’t they use it?” “You would have?” I asked. “Of course!” Oh. I explained Grelle?s reasoning to him. “Okay, I can see her point,” said my tutor, digesting this. “Maybe it is a bit cruel. But it’s still good. I would have used it.” I was clearly on the wrong newspaper. At least for theatre.

Yet, as far as film and television went, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And Jon Challis was to play a key role as the drama unfolded.

The World’s Baggage

The most important issues facing the world today:
– water
– globalism and international trade laws
– localism: social and cultural identity

These things are the biggest issues in western society:
– infrastructure: transportation and electricity

This is a major issue, but not the biggest one:
– food quality (not quantity)

These things are not political issues in the UK:
– they’re political red herrings. Once the political decision to provide them and the targets of provision are identified, then they’re really management issues; the distribution of resources.

– health care: we have the most advanced health care in human history; the problem of identifying and treating rare diseases remains as important as it’s ever been. However, while there’s enough money for fertility ‘treatments’–as though having children is a right–then there’s clearly overspending.

– education: people are smarter than they’ve ever been and have greater access to information than at any time in history

– social welfare: a massive drug culture and the record-breaking sales of DVD players reflect a society where there is a huge surplus of wealth generally

Quote: “The importance of poverty as a cause of drug abuse has been ignored by the government, an influential report claims.”
Comment: so-called poor people in Britain can afford expensive drugs.

This is the biggest non-issue ever:
– hunting.


I started writing this as a rant (as usual) then realised that there was what looked like a major contradiction in my thinking. I was going to write that the most overhyped issues in the democratised world were terrorism and crime. For the most part, these issues are manipulated by politicians to create paranoia in an effort to reduce freedoms while increasing their own power.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania.

However, I then started writing something about what I think of as a hidden issue: the rise of feudalism. This was kind of a spin off from my thoughts on decreasing localisation and the general feeling of being disenfranchised many people have. Who am I? Where do I belong?

The disenfranchised want to belong to a group. Feudalism gives people that sense of belonging that nationalism and globalism take away. And so we have increasing power of unelected armed groups led by warlords and self-styled barons (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) acting outside established legal frameworks.

But there’s the contradiction. Either terrorism, a spin-off of this feudalistic war-baron-centred outlook, is important or it isn’t. Okay, it is. But the issue has been hijacked. The real issues aren’t public safety ones. They’re global ones regarding fair trade. And they’re local ones regarding individual and group identity. Individuals want to belong to a social group, to feel part of the world around them, but increasing paranoia works against this. The only safe things left to do are stay home, watch TV and take drugs for instant gratification.

Doing the paranoid things becomes part of a vicious circle. It actually increases the power of warlords, drug barons and other petty demigods, who all feed off the demand for quick fixes while thriving due to a lack of social cohesion. None of these things are healthy, either for individuals or for society. Reducing paranoia and increasing local values are the issues which need addressing. Turn off the security-obsessed floodlight and light a candle.