They Cannot Yet Know

This picture surfaced again this week.

It’s surfaced a few times before over the years and I even feel as if I’ve written about it before on this very blog but, if I did, I can’t find the post so here we go again.

The photo dates from about 1979 (that’s a guess) and it shows the cast of the first play I ever wrote. That’s me there, third from the left, in the life jacket and hat, smirking.

I could name all the guys in the photo but I won’t because I don’t know where they all are anymore and I don’t want their names turning up in a random blog post like this. I’m in touch with only one of the guys and he often comes by here for a read so, Hi G, hope all is well with you.

The play – it was more of a sketch really - was called ‘Hamlet in Ireland’. We were doing Hamlet as our Shakespeare play for our final exams so I wrote a sort of skit on it for some school variety production that was going on. I remember a guy and a gal singing ‘When I Need You, I Hold Out My Hand and I Touch You’ but the rest of the show is lost to the mists of time and even that may have been some other year.

I remember ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ though. I remember writing it on six or seven sheets of foolscap paper, using different coloured pens for each of the different character’s dialogue. I don’t think there were any copies. I think we just passed around the foolscap sheets to get an idea of what we should say and then we took it from there.

The play went over quite well, as I recall. It was just a loose amalgam of references to school happenings and telly adverts of the time, all tied together with the vague conceit that Hamlet had been shipwrecked off the coast of Sligo and had struggled ashore. Shakespeare scholars might note the appropriation of various  themes from The Tempest and Twelfth Night but that would be bullshit, as theatre analysis quite often is.

There was really only one overriding reason for writing ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ and it was very silly. We had a teacher - a very fine teacher and a lovely man - who had a markedly large head. His nickname was Skull. When we came to the part in Hamlet where poor Yorick is uncovered in the graveyard, I saw an opportunity for some of what my Mum would have called ‘Divilment’. The play grew around the moment when I got to hold a Halloween skull out to the audience, point it directly at the teacher with the prominent head and proclaim, ‘Alas poor Skull, I knew him’. It was every bit as as great as it sounds.

There were other teachers lampooned in the piece too. One teacher had remedied a blockage in a school sump by ‘togging out’ and going into a manhole and clearing the blockage. This was represented in the play by one of our cohort doing a bad impression of this hero while performing a gratuitous striptease on the stage before diving off stage left. This also went over pretty well too.

‘Hamlet in Ireland’. Fun times.

There is an element of serendipity in the way this particular photo surfaced again this week. At the same time, a warm discussion has been going on between a number of other school mates, myself included, about the various bands and gigs we went to see in our late teens.

Although the bands were a little later, it’s all part of the same larger subtext. 'The way we were, the way we are now.'

It made me think.

It’s the reason, I think, that I’ve had the gall to write plays for teenagers while in my fifties. I mean, I’m practically an old man yet here I am, thinking I can write things which are relevant to a whole new generation of young adults in a whole new world.

Why would I think that?

That’s easy. Because I can.

Because some things have certainly changed but not very many. Not very many at all. It’s plain to see, if you look around. The young people of today may have technology and media exposure at their fingertips that we could never have dreamed of. It doesn’t matter much though, not really.

The real concerns of today’s kids, today’s teenagers, are basically the same as they were when I was a teenager, forty years ago. It’s the same fears, joys, loves, hates, successes, failures, wins and losses that obsess them as obsessed us all those years ago. The teenagers we were then and the teenagers they are now are the same people, hardly any difference at all.

It’s just a shame that we, the older teenagers, remember our teens so well but still we forget how to be teens. Our concerns as fifty-five year olds become quite different. We see the remainder of our lives mapped out in a way that no teen ever can and this makes us heavier and slower and somehow less alive.

It’s the great conundrum of being a parent. We can remember exactly what is was like to be young, how it felt, how it was, but we can’t actually be that way anymore, much as we might like to.

Perhaps the distance between adults and teens would not be so great if we couldn’t remember anything at all of our own teens. I think, perversely, it’s the very fact that we remember so much and so vividly… it’s that that keeps us apart.

When I wrote ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ on a few sheets of foolscap in multi-coloured biro, I never guessed I would go on to write twenty something more plays. I know it now. That’s the key difference between us, I think. The Adults and the Kids.

We know all that we have done, all that we have failed to do.

They cannot yet know.

Using Coffee as an Analogy for Parental Aspirations

I love my coffee, particularly at the weekends. There’s a mug right here in front of me now, steaming away. I make it pretty roughly, without much trace of finesse. Although I do have my little routine which I think I picked up during my years in a lovely architectural practice in North London.

Here’s what I do.

I have a cafetiere, one of those big ones. I heat it up with a good splash of boiling water and then I put the plunger/lid part back on and swish the boiling water around, just to get everything nicely warmed up. Then I get the lid off again, throw out the water, and shovel in maybe three dessertspoons of ground coffee. I bring the kettle back up to boiling and then I pour the boiling water into the warm cafetiere until it’s between half and three quarters full. I stir the coffee with the dessert spoon, getting up quite a swirl, and then I ‘backwater’ with the spoon until the coffee is nice and still again. Then I put the lid back on and set the plunger down to the surface of the coffee and I leave it a while and then I plunge it at some random moment, about five minutes later.

That’s how I do it. (Takes a sip) It’s grand.

The coffee itself is nothing overly special. It’s a bag from Tesco. I tend to favour Colombian, more out of habit than anything else, and I keep it in a sealed thing in the fridge because, like I said, I only tend to make coffee on the weekend so one bag lasts me for quite a while.

My eldest son was home for Christmas. We all had a great time together. John is in his final year at University. If I say which one and he happens to read this then he will accuse me of bragging so I won’t... but I am.

He brought with him his own coffee routine which he inherited from his American housemate. It is quite different to mine. That is mostly the point. Up until Christmas, he was using his housemate’s kit to make his coffee but co-ordinated gifts from a number of different sources combined cleverly to the effect that he now has a kit all of his own.

Here’s how he goes about his coffee making.

He has his Chemex, which is a very elegant and scientific-looking beaker, his little silver hot water pot with the tiny spout, his special (very expensive) filter papers, his coffee grinder, his weighing scales and his fairly specialised coffee beans.

First, he_

Wait, you don’t want to know really, do you? You can look it up if you want. It’s a brilliant routine of grinding, weighing, blooming and measuring. It fills the house with the most amazing coffee smell and I’ve been granted a taste or two over the holiday and it’s fabulous. Almost worth the effort.

I take such pleasure in John’s coffee making routine. It’s so much better than mine. So careful, so considered, so refined and with a far superior outcome.

You can see where my mind is going with this. It’s just such a neat example of what I wish for my sons and what I reckon so many of us wish for our kids. To know more than we do, to do things better than we ever did, to make better things for themselves than we ever did.

That’s all really.

Except for one fairly obvious glance backwards.

To my own Dad.

If my Dad had been around to read about my own simple coffee routine, he would have grinned and scratched his head in gentle disbelief. For him, the hot drink of choice was a mug of tea. A teabag in a cup or, on a good day, a couple of teabags in a pot. The extent of my own dicking around with Cafetieres and Colombian grounds would have been a source of mystery to him and probably some gentle ribbing from him too.

But I bet he would also have felt a bit like I do. 

I was the first who was able to go to third level education, although my older brother has since gone far further than I ever did. He would have noted how things were coming better for me than they had been for him. How he had managed to provide a sort of a ladder, to let the one coming after go up that step higher, if they wanted to. 

I bet he would have felt a little like I felt at Christmas, whenever that refined coffee smell came creeping down the hall.

Mission, if only partly, accomplished.

The Bainbridge Way

Gary Bainbridge is an online pal who has been writing a weekly column for the Liverpool Echo for many years. Last Friday, he published his last column.

I, for one, will miss them greatly and I know of many others, for many, who will miss them too. 

His columns, or at least the best of, are collected in his books which you can peruse and buy here if you’d like to see what I’m going on about.

You can also visit with him on his website or on his Twitter, which is particularly good.

Bloody hell, this is starting to sound like a feckin’ infomercial or something. Get to the point, Ken.

The point is that I thought I would do a little tribute to Gary by writing this week's post in the manner in which he evidently did so many of his. Gary impressed me hugely by being able to deliver, week on week, an account of some event from his previous week which met all the criteria of a Bainbridge Column. It would be mildly self-deprecating, it would be funny, it would be true and, most impressively, it would have that elusive tinge of real humanity that is so hard to capture. I feel I manage this myself about once a year here on my own pages. Gary did it every week.

So I challenged myself. I would stop and think about my week and I would try to identify a ‘column worthy’ moment which had occurred. Then I would tell it without sparing myself and I would hope that, somewhere along the way, a little humanity would leak in too. I didn’t want to try to mimic Gary’s style or anything like that. I just wanted to find a thing that wasn’t a thing before I went looking for it and make something out of it.

So I literally lay on the bed and thought about my week. What had I done? What had happened? Where was my column? Eventually something rose to the surface. I wrote it down. Reading it, you might think that I just took this week's blog post and stuck a 'Gary Bit' here on the front of it. That's not what happened though. This little event was gone from my mind until I resurrected it and related it in the service of a column. That's the whole point. 

It's not very funny, like Gary's stuff is, that's the only thing.

Anyway, with very best wishes to Gary on the next stage of his career, here goes.

*                                   *                       *                       *

There’s a local shop I go to sometimes. It’s down the road and through the estate and you can cut into it through a sort of walkway between two houses. It’s a bit too far to walk when you’re in a hurry so I drive and park in the housing estate and walk through.

Are you with me so far?

The thing is, there’s a bunch of men who sometimes hang around the entrance to this walkway after dark. They are tall and roughly dressed and are clearly Eastern European. They sip cans of cut price beer and mutter among themselves. To get to the shop, you have to go through them.

The other night, I got my milk in the shop and came back to the car, ‘good-nighting' my way through the tall silent cohort of drinkers as I passed. When I reached the car, I found that I had accidentally left the hazard warning lights on. The battery in the car hasn’t been that good of late, not nearly good enough for stray hazard warning lights to be left on. I turned the key and the engine replied with the faintest of ‘thur-hur-hurrs’. The battery was as flat as a pancake.

At the sound of my fatigued engine, the drinking cohort all turned as-one and stared at me. They were about twenty feet away, gathered tight together, gazing united in through my windscreen. If I had working headlights, I reckon they would have illuminated their faces in a rather scary way.

If I have one good quality, I think it is that I trust people. These men, glaring at me in my car, did not worry me. If there was trouble to be found it would not be lessened by my worrying about it. Some would call it naivety. I won’t start calling it that until it goes wrong for me. That hasn’t happened yet.

I hopped out of the car.

“Hey, guys!”

The guys didn’t turn. They were already turned.

“You have… problem?”

“The battery is flat. I left the lights on.”

“We saw.”

“Any chance… of a push?”

The men all put down their cans in synchronicity and walked over to my little Opal.

“Get in. Two gear, yes? Two gear?”

I climbed in and popped the stick into second gear, I knew the drill.

The men pushed. I eased the clutch. The engine rattled but didn’t go. We tried again. Push, pop, rattle. No go.

One of the men came up to the driver’s door.

“I try?” he said.

I hopped out and he hopped in. This time I helped with the pushing. The men made room at the back for me. We were running out of street but the man in the car eased the clutch and the engine fired into life. He was better at it than me.

The car pulled away from us and the man drove away in my car. Off up around the corner and gone. You have to do that, to warm it up. The engine might stop again otherwise.

To pass the time while he was gone, I shook hands with all the men and thanked them profusely and, by the time I was finished, the driver man was back with my car. I thanked him too.

The men seemed warmed by having been asked for help. Or maybe it was just all that pushing.

As I drove away, waving back to them, I thought about driving round to the main entrance to the shop and slipping in and getting them a six-ring of their favourite beer. I would have gladly done that. Gladly. But I didn’t. Instead, I went home.

I felt that the purity of my asking for help and receiving it was a far better thing than me looking to pay them off for their natural warmth and kindness. I felt the men would feel the same.

Maybe to some readers that may seem a bit silly, even a bit cheap on my part. That’s okay. Deep down, I know it’s not silly or cheap at all. An assumption of mutual understanding is always for the best. 

That's what I reckon anyway.