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.


Marc Paterson said...

You've made a grown man teary eyed this morning.

Jim Murdoch said...

I also had a go a rewriting Shakespeare although I was a little older than you. My mate, Wee Tom (to differentiate him from Big Tom and Tom the Cat), and I used to make tapes which we’d fill full of stupid and rude songs and stupid and rude sketches and basically anything else stupid and rude we could dream up. I can only remember four titles, The Ern Tape, Ern II – Revenge of the Ern, Dark Side of the Ern and Fanfare for the Common Ern but I think there was a fifth. (Maybe Revenge of the Ern was its own title.) Needless to say my copies have long since vanished—I threw them out (IMAGINE!!) in a fit of self-righteousness—and I have bitterly regretted the idiocy of that act ever since. Anyway I did most of the writing. Tom was happy to play the fool and do as many stupid (and rude, don’t forget rude) voices as I could come up with which is why he ended up played all of the characters in my Romeo and Juliet in Ten Minutes apart from Romeo and Mercutio (which I played with the direst Pakistani accent you have ever heard). Juliet was an Australian nymphomaniac (“Romeo! Romeo! Where the fuck are you Romeo?”), Prince Escalus was voiced by an incontinent Elvis “The Pelvis” Presley through an echo unit Tom built (clever bloke) and Juliet’s father bellowed in spoonerisms. I mean I should be embarrassed to tell you this but the odd thing is I was actually quite proud of my work at the time. We weren’t Pete and Dud—far from it—but there was definitely a bit of Derek and Clive at work there. Christ! if we only knew what the years had in store for the two of us. I haven’t seen Tom in years—not any of the Toms come to think of it (the cat’s dead, of course)—but I did look him up on Facebook a few years back to see if he was still alive. (I’d just learned of the death of my first girlfriend and it suddenly felt really important to ensure other people I once cared about were still alive and kicking.) He is by the way. Or at least he was the last time I checked which was probably a couple of years ago.

I can’t imagine being a teen now. I can barely remember having been one but if I got the opportunity to relive those teenage years I wouldn’t say no. The same is not true of my twenties or fifties and especially not my thirties and forties.