28 April 2005


In February 1912, just as he turned 30, Joyce was unable to pay the rent on his rooms in Trieste, and with the sword of eviction hanging over his head, gave a couple of lectures at the Universita Popolare to earn a few bob. He took as his subjects the two English writers he most admired, William Blake and Daniel Defoe. Much occupied as he was with questions of national characteristics and cultural identity, he zeroed in on Defoe's everyman, Robinson Crusoe, with the contention that Crusoe was Englishness incarnate:

...the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow but effective intelligence, the sexual apathy, the practical and well-balanced religiosity, the calculating silence.

There is Anthony Blair in a nutshell, I realise.

Defoe Road and Church St in Stoke Newington. Obligatory trendy mum. Large model of vegetable above the Blue Legume cafe.

A close-up.

Defoe lived in a house on this site, it says

Warp Nine

Almost finished scene six - could almost be said to be "on a roll".
I wanted to advertise how much I'm loving
a) Oracle Night
b) Desperate Housewives.
Arrived home from a shift at Southwark last night just in time for the latter. My sympathy for the neglected parent Bree - her tearaway son is a dope-smoking Daddy's boy - reached new heights when she sent him off to brat camp.
And the comedy death of Gabrielle's hated mother-in-law was a joy. Gloriously tasteless tv.

26 April 2005

Tale of Two Dinners

First there was the seder meal on Saturday night at the in-laws. I always enjoy the ritual aspects (dipping your bitter herbs in your salt water for remembrance, your boiled egg for rebirth) and of course the non-symbolic food (Mrs S made a tagine). Prayers go on a bit long, though. Luckily Spike needed someone to play with, so I spent a fair bit of time messing around with him on the terrace, in the kitchen etc. Very good to see T, H and G, the siblings-in-law. And Dr S was on good form. There were fourteen of us all together.

Then last night, a lovely time at Samantha E's flat, just around the corner from Dr and Mrs S, as it happens. She invited me and Glyn C and Rachael, so that's four playwrights - is there a collective noun? (No impertinent suggestions please. Oh go on then, if you must...) Happy to say the fifth diner was the actress Genny S, Glyn's partner. Gen kept us from too much writerly navel-gazing. Smashing food, nice wine, interesting chatter. The burning issue, at least for me - is it really true? Will there be live poodles on stage in Improbable's Theatre of Blood? We talked about the election hardly at all, but Glyn and Gen are wondering about going to the count at their constituency - Bethnal Green and Bow, mark you - for research purposes. Now that's dedication. Should be rather lively down there in the early hours of May 6th.

Yesterday also I finished scene 5, not before ffing time.

23 April 2005

Lulu and the Face-lift

Michael Billington and Ian Rickson had a polite set-to in the Guardian arts pages last week about the non-issue of the length of plays. I like IR's last para:

Writers may defy critical taste, or resist fashion, but they are not shy of pursuing their own vibrant aesthetics. I respect Billington for caring. We all want a healthy theatre. But we must not use the values of the past to judge the theatre of the future.

Meanwhile at the Coliseum, the opera tribe are lapping up Lulu, all four hours of it (if you include intervals and milling about before and after, which I do). The last time I was at ENO was to see my favourite thing of all time ever (probably), John Adams' Nixon In China, director Peter Sellars, libretto Alice Goodman (great poet married to great poet Geoffrey Hill) with Madame Mao's choreography reimagined by Mark Morris. In one of the intervals, the missus bumped into James Maddalena (Nixon) outside the stage door having a crafty fag. You're amazing, she said. Why, thank you, he drawled.
Since that wonderful night, the Coliseum's had a face-lift. And very handsome it is too. New bars, new loos, reupholstered seats, lifts. Second best of all is the Trafalgar Room, a tiny but unmissable addition that puts you in mind of the Great Glass Elevator. It gives you a view of, you've guessed it, Trafalgar Square. First best of all is, us people in the cheap seats no longer have to leave the building and go round the corner to the fire exit to reach the balcony - we've got a staircase of our very own!
As for the show, it was stupendously good. Mesmerising. Very cinematic, big in every sense - sound, sets, characterisation. But when stillness or ambiguity or downright strangeness were called for, there they were. And Lulu's death - perhaps the most terrifying scene in the history of a form littered with the violent deaths of heroines - was played out against the backdrop of the most disturbing, diabolical design I've yet seen on stage.
All this for a tenner, and guess what - I hear Nixon is coming back. God I hope so.

21 April 2005


The above word raged like the ebola virus over the sports media a while back, in the autumn I think. It's been contained now, thank Christ. Victorious coaches would talk misty-eyed of the bouncebackability shown yet again by the lads, while the vanquished lamented that though their lads had started the season brimful of bouncebackability, they seemed to have lost the knack of late.

Posting in the late evening, it occurs to me that for the first time in my life I may be possessed of this quality, much prized by sportsfolk. For in that I am okay about the Joyce thing.
I supposed it's helped that the Beeb people were happy to let me write what would have been the first adaptation of a seminal modernist text. Even so.

I'm also chipper because this evening my football team, Everton, beat Manchester United for the first time in ten years. Bouncebackability, you see.

20 April 2005

So Much For That

As Cleese said in Clockwise, "It's not the despair.. it's the hope."
Just got the call from Liz to say that despite the BBC's best attempts to persuade, the Joyce estate will not sanction an adaptation of A Portrait - not even a straight one, which was, admittedly, not my favoured option. I was expecting this, but am still incredibly disappointed.

I'm not sure I know what to do to cheer myself up. But must think of something quick.

18 April 2005


darn! pesky net!

16 April 2005

Catchup II

Eliot: "...breeding lilacs out of the dead land..."
Paxman: "It's April, whaddyou expect?"

More hijacks. More scans. More reboots than you could shake a stick at. Here's what else...

There's probably some alignment of planets or something rising somewhere, how else to explain my chancing upon first Tiffany, then Michael Gove? Actually it's less astrological, more sociological - sit in the British Library long enough and most of the tribe will pass through eventually. On Thursday I was having a coffee at about 7, doodling around with the play, when a function began upstairs for the launch of a book about Israel. Lovely klezmer music filled the air, lifting the spirits of the workers but also causing mobile users to raise their voices. Soon enough it stopped, and a voice came through the p.a. - it was MG, longtime writer for The Times, media pundit and now candidate for the safe Tory seat of Surrey Heath. Michael was my neighbour in our first year at college, and a housemate in our second. We were good pals before paths diverged, not so say went in totally opposite directions. But in order to say hello to the old Aberdonian madman, I had to negotiate the really rather scary security - sharp-dressed Israeli men with ear-pieces and steely demeanours, no doubt on loan from the embassy, and no doubt packing pieces. So I was polite as hell, but gently persistent, and eventually persuaded one of them to give my name to M, who came bounding over, and we had a nice brief warm catchup. He was demure about his chances in the election, but I told him I'd be over to cadge a lunch at the Commons at the earliest possible opportunity.

Friday was A Spike Day, and we piled into Georgina's car with little Arthur and tootled off to Highgate Hill - had an inadvertently expensive lunch at Lauderdale House where we irritated the hell out of some childless ladies (we didn't mean to). I love that place - Spike was born in the Whittington just down the hill, so it was our default place to go after scans and such. Also Svieta and Paul had their terrific wedding party there - much football in the garden, dancing, and Michael Nyman played piano (yes, he did play that one from The Piano). Then later, the same Paul got me in to see Vanishing Points at the German Gymnasium, right next to St.Pancras station. Paul's a film-maker and he records Complicite's shows for them. I can't pretend I know Complicite's work very well, or John Berger's, but I could see why they were drawn to each other - Berger has the air of a magus, a teacher, and the show seemed to be Simon McBurney's response to him as much as to the material. At the beginning I thought I heard Paul Scofield's voice on the soundtrack, talking in his lugubrious measure about London's railways - this excited memories of the film London, and so probably led me to expect too much of the evening.
In the queue beforehand I got talking to a lady who turned out to be Penny Cliff, writer in residence with Cardboard Citizens. CC are doing a show in the Berger season based on his novel King. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, I did the bar for the matinee of Over Gardens Out at Southwark. Rebecca Nesvet was in town so I invited her along, and she really liked the play. I watched again and was relieved to be delighted all over again. My reactions to Vanishing Points the previous evening had made me fear I was getting jaded, and all this playgoing would have to stop. But the performances (Dido Miles and Ryan Sampson in their Oedipal tryst), and Andrew Steggall's swaggering direction were a shot in the arm. Went for a coffee with Rebecca at Tate Modern after, and gassed about plays we've written, seen, would like to write and would like to see. She's amazingly well-read, and the three plays she's got me dying to read are ancient -
Gallathea by Lyly (a favourite of QE1), Love's Mistris by Heywood (apparently out of print since the 1870s) and her own favourite, which she's directed, The Cenci by Shelley.

And today? Lounging with S and B in the Clissold Park cafe, a two hour sleep in the afternoon, the FA Cup semi-final on video, and started reading Paul Auster's Oracle Night. Bliss. In fact, were it not for the computer nightmares, a perfect day.

The snaps above, by the way, are of a young heron hunting fish in the communal pond. His parents should've told him about the netting, surely.

14 April 2005


Yesterday was a strange one. The day before I'd spent at Mackay's, helping paint his living room. Good honest work, for a change. Was able to employ my Dad's adage - he was a decorator by trade - "it all dries white". Ie, it'll turn out okay. And it did. Music to paint by - Sugarcubes, Violent Femmes, early Beck, Pink Floyd.
So I started Wednesday a little hungover from the exertion, but fine - then came news of a friend's illness. She's going through diagnosis. We can only hope it's not as serious as it might be. And then in the library I bumped into old college friend (Dr) Tiffany Stern, who teaches at Oxford Brookes. Tiff was very kind to me when I was going through Hodgkin's Disease way back when. It was really a delightful surprise to see her. She's lost nothing. When she'd gone though, I found myself unable to shake off thoughts of illness.
More happily, I was rung up later on by Thomas de Mallet Burgess, who wanted to talk about plays. Thomas is involved with the Ideas Foundry, but is also artistic director of a well-established company in Dublin that makes theatre for young people, and he wanted to sound me out. Which was, like the man says, nice. So I'll send him a couple of scripts and a couple of ideas and we'll see.
Meantime, I've got fifty pages of Empress and I'm only a third of the way through, scene-wise (5 of 15). What's going on? I've cut it and pruned it, believe me. And it's not un-tight. Please God I don't want it to turn into an unplayable epic.

11 April 2005


The computer is somewhat better, but for how long who knows. But here is the news.
Last Saturday week I went to Kath and Steve's lovely party in Bankside, and asked a gentleman there in a Joy Division t-shirt what he does, like you do. His answer was along the lines of: I'm campaign co-ordinator for Stamp Out Poverty, which is lobbying for a tax on foreign currency transactions. He explained it all to my disfinancial brain, slowly and carefully... If Gordon Brown were to put a levy of one half of one hundredth of a percent (0.005%) on trade in sterling, this would generate £3 billion.
This money could then be ringfenced for overseas development. By "trade in sterling" is meant all those hyperspatial deals done between market speculators all over the world, generating untold riches for themselves. The tax is so small, relative to the volume, that they'll hardly notice it. I was stunned, and said so. It's such a brilliant idea. Glad you like it, he said. The name's David Hillman. Come to the press launch if you like. So I did. In a committee room over the road from Parliament, I sat and listened to these very brilliant men and one brilliant woman - Dame Shirley Williams - outline the aims of the campaign to raise a stamp duty on forex (see, I have the lingo now) deals. Please go to the website and read more. There's an easy-to-sign petition on there, too. If you support any of the NGOs like CAFOD, Make Poverty History, War On Want, Save The Children, Trade Justice Movement etc, you're already helping, as people from these orgs are on the case. If you feel you can help in any specific way with the campaign, you can contact David through the website. And finally, if you happen to have lots of money in any of the 20 tax "havens" around the world under British jurisdiction, look out. These very brilliant people have you in their sights. The redistribution of wealth is not an idea that's going to go away.

In other news, I was behind the bar at Southwark again on Friday. The show is on till Saturday and I urge you to go if you can. It's a Peter Gill play, Over Gardens Out. Readers of My London Life will certainly know of PG at least by repute, and won't be surprised to hear that the play is a gem. Nice review here.

10 April 2005

Inbuilt Obsolescence

Dear reader, forgive the paucity of posts. I had a lot to relate but the computer is seriously ailing. The "about:blank" hijacker. Trying to fight it off but my tech abilities are almost nil. The bloke who advertises repair services isn't answering his phone. So no doubt I'll be off to Tottenham Court Road tomorrow to get a new PC. Meantime, do not forsake my oh my darlings.

06 April 2005

Oak Panelled Rooms

The launch of The Ideas Foundry was held in the Livery Hall of the Draper's Company in Throgmorton Street, right behind the Bank of England. Oak panelled rooms always make me feel like I'm back at college, ie dumb and daunted. But the event was really very enjoyable. Sarah Berger introduced me to Jean Marsh and Ned Sherrin, and then to the Ideas Foundry chief, Joe Harmston. There was a presentation for potential investors, and I don't know whether this is standard practice or highly original, but as one presenter, say, the marketing director, wound up, a performer entered stage right and went into an extract from a musical or play that The Ideas Foundry has ready for production. I found this all thrilling, and admired the chutzpah of the performers, as ever - luckily I have no money otherwise I would have thrown it straight at them. It was also a thrill to meet the writer and actor Robin Chapman afterwards. He told me about creating the role of The Hostage in Brendan Behan's play. How Joan Littlewood propped up Behan, literally and generally. I also talked with a writer called Sebastian Baczkiewicz, who's writing a play about the CIA for BBC radio, so we gassed about all things spooky, JFK etc. Great fun. (Sebastian's convinced the Mob did it, I'm still not sure.) The food and wine was lovely, and I wandered about looking at the royal portraits. I also snuck into a room elsewhere in the building where a table was laid for a supper for eight, under a rather good picture of QE2. As things wound down, I had a chance to chat with Andrew Whelan, the artistic director, who was amiable and funny but clearly also on the ball.
So all in all I had a very nice evening.

New fridge-freezer arrived today, looking like a white version of the monolith from 2001. Only thing is, our silver falling-apart one won't come out - the kitchen seems to have been built around it. So now I have to take the kitchen doorframe off to extract the old one and get the new one in. Cripes.

05 April 2005


Our mutual friend in Sydney,Ova Girl,draws an interesting distinction between jobs and jobettes. She's landed an interesting jobette just recently - see her site for more. But it sets me to wondering about employment generally. The only time I've made anything like a living wage from writing was when I wrote regularly for a magazine about space exploration. Meantime there've been thoroughly satisfying, successful productions of plays I've had a ball writing, plays that have gone down well with the critics, audiences moved to tears, gales of laughter. Then there've been rumours of options being taken up by the NT, plays taken up by movie producers and sent to other movie producers to look at, plays promised grants, money, time, care. So little of it has happened. This is of course my fault in so many ways. When the work has been good enough to be pushed that stage further, I haven't had the necessary confidence, energy, balls. A good example of my culpable neglect of my own interests is in my failure to have an agent by now. Knocked back by a couple of busy, powerful ones, I stopped asking. But it's taken me till now to work out that this is just what happens, it's the way of the world.
Richard Eyre's diary has a reassuring Auden quote:
Between the ages of twenty and forty we're engaged in the process of discussing who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass without impunity.
So I have until December next year.
Today I hear that the rights to A Portrait reside with the Joyce estate, whose spokesperson in Ireland can only be reached by letter (one was sent yesterday). I've been shy of blogging about this, but the BBC do seem to want me to do it. Now we need the rights. Perhaps I should pay another visit to the Cathedral.
Tonight I go to the launch of a production company, The Ideas Foundry. I was invited by the actress Sarah Berger, an interested party. I met her at a drinks thing given by a writer friend of Toby's called Emma Frost.
So it goes on. Someone's got to do it, I suppose.

Deeply amused by HRH's misfortunes. Horrible of me, but he's such a comical arse. Like a Wodehouse baddie crossed with Sacher-Masoch. Reactionary wimp. Having said that, the only person I know who's had any direct dealings with him (the father-in-law) says he's alright. But the media persona - practically everybody's experience of him - is a disaster.

03 April 2005

The Monsterist

I'd been curious about the Monsterists for some time, so I jumped at Friday's opportunity to hear what they had to say at Soho theatre. Only, for reasons obscure even to him, Richard Bean was on his lonesome on stage, save for a flip-chart. A call to brother and sister monsters in the auditorium went unheard. Manfully shrugging this off, RB gave a very entertaining and persuasive account of the Monsterist manifesto, its aims and drives and reasons. Where do I sign up? I'm particularly enthused by the call for a year-long moratorium on productions of Shakespeare, so living writers can have a go with the resources he uses year round. It's what he would have wanted, and anyway he's dead. I liked the cut of RB's jib, I must say. Now I've given up solipsism I'll try and get to know his work.
After RB there were some playreadings from the three writers he's been mentoring for Arvon, but there was a break first, and I talked with a playwright called Rebecca Nesvet who teaches writing at the Univ of Gloucestershire. She'd asked RB a clever question. I also caught up with West Yorkshire's lit manager Alex Chisholm, who directed a thing of mine once. She'd also asked RB a question, along the lines of "why don't you writers get off our backs? we're doing our best to get your work seen, but the sums don't always add up." I hope I don't misrepresent you, Alex. She said it all in the most genial way.

So farewell John Paul. Goodbye Karol. A great man, which is me saying nothing by way of approbation or scorn. He just was a great man who lived a dirty great life, in the league of Chao En Lai, Seneca, Galileo, Nye Bevan, JFK, Olivier and so on. We can argue about their triumphs and tragedies, but we can say for sure of each, you don't get many to the pound.