Friday, 27 June 2008

Excuses, excuses and Heather Couper

(originally posted on myspace here)



Ack, daylight.

The sun says hello. Good afternoon then. My system of parallel alarms clearly hasn't done the trick. My sleeping body's learnt how to operate two snooze buttons simultaneously and instead of waking up I make it only as far as REM sleep where Sean Penn's crouched behind me in the back seat of a left-hand-drive Buick tearing through an orchard, saying how shit an actor he thinks Michael Caine is: "He always plays the same damn thing! He always does the same fucking thing with his hands! He should - Like one character should maybe have two fingers blown off so he's only allowed to use three fingers - Find something different to do with his hands. At least that would get him to fucking act for fucking once!" And I go "Well, hmm..." and watch the trees streak past and think "Shall I tell him how over-rated I think he is?" but don't. And then the alarm goes, my lizard brain kicks in, slams it off, goes back to sleep and now I'm channel-hopping with my Dad in a hotel in Spain... I tried to find a graphic to illustrate "lizard brain". I think its proper name is the cerebellum. There's supposed to be a lizard bit and then a mouse bit and then a monkey bit and then dolphin bit, but I can't work out where the lizard bit initially is. It's not the kernel. I think it's more like a little old-man-of-the-sea brain that clings onto the back, curled up like - now I come to think of it -


Anyway by half past one in the afternoon some part of me even tires of being tired, and I reach a hand over to the off-white, Glen-Larson-schemed replacement phone I've been issued with since the theft of the one on which I used to play Sonic, and start playing Snake.

And Heather Couper's on the radio, discussing the anthropic principle. This as I understand it points out that if you throw a tin of paint against a wall it's got to leave SOME kind of mark, even though the chances of it leaving EXACTLY that mark are infinitesimally small. Ergo the presence in this universe of life intelligent enough to ask "Why are we present in this universe, ie here?" proves nothing but, well, itself... It's a very simple principle, confounded perhaps by my decision to explain it in terms of paint. Of course I remember Heather Couper back from when I was a kid watching her on Saturday morning television explaining Space or Halley's Comet or warning us not to look at an eclipse. She had a white jacket and a red shirt and a perm back then. Lovely, warm Heather Couper.

Was she always on because we were sending so much stuff into space? Were we? Or had we just got something back? It's odd to see in hindsight the conditions of your childhood environment revealed as blips, not constants. Are kids still even into Space? I know for a fact they still receive the same basic grounding I did in Ancient Egyptian burial technique, because whenever I ask them what this double-pronged eye-ball gouger's for their first response will always be "Oo, pulling the brains out through the nose!"

And I was reading Michael Palin's Diaries (1969-79) recently, in which he unwittingly charts the day-to-day gestation of the world into which I got born. Everything's so recent. I was amazed. Such-and-such a day saw the rise of the IRA, the discrediting of the Left, the gentrification of Notting Hill etc... I'd hoped, you see, that reading these diaries would help get me back into the act of writing (I hadn't forgetten about you) and bought quite a number of other books by writers about writing in this same vain hope. Read 'em all. Played Sonic. Then Snake. So I've read Brian Aldiss' "Bury My Heart in W.H. Smiths". And I've read Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without A Country", where he jots down "the funniest joke in the world" (Last night I dreamed I was eating flannel cakes. When I woke up the blanket was gone) although I found a funnier one I think on page 131:

"When I got Home from the Second World War, my Uncle Dan clapped me on the back, and he said, 'You're a man now.' So I killed him."

Another interesting thing about Palin's diaries: He writes nothing at all about the business of crafting sketches for Monty Python, but will meticulously chart the progress of a possible voice-over gig. (And it only takes him half an hour to write an entry. I can't be a writer. That explains it.)

And here's Anthony Neilson's advice to young writers, if you're interested. I've done some homework. And I don't disagree with what he says about the liberating discipline of "story", but all this stuff is just so self-evident and, as advice, useless. It's unilluminating. "Thou Shalt Not Bore". Oh, you think? It gets us nowhere. Silly, old, fantastic, paperbacky Brian Aldiss would be the first to point out the wrong-headedness of this simply as advice to a writer, let alone someone wishing to write for the theatre - SPECIFICALLY for the theatre. If all you want to do is tell a story then set up stall somewhere unheckleable and accessible to millions. Make no mess. Never fail. And, ahhh BLAH BLAH (I wonder if that Sean Penn dream had anything to do with this) anyway I'm awake now, my fingers hurt, it's dark, that was five hours well spent, and if there's one OTHER thing I learnt from the Palin diaries it's that sketches don't write themselves. So I'm off to play Snake. Stopping only when the measure of my own success makes me bite myself in the ass:

(Hm. That's two posts now that I've ended with the word "ass". Maybe I'm a writer after all.)

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