Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My Home Town 

On Sunday evening, I read Zoe’s post on Experimental Travel and was out of the door inside ten minutes. Here’s what she wrote:

Please: Contributors should post their results on their blog and leave a link here/send me an email stating that they have taken part in the idea - preferably leaving a link to the photos.
Equipment: Notebook, camera.
Method: Several people will move around a location, according to common directions, and take notes and photographs of their experiences.
Instructions: The starting point could be anywhere, you may be alone or accompanied. From this beginning, please use the ten directions below and document your thoughts, feelings, impressions at each of the ten stages. You may adapt the directions as you wish.

1. The first stage is your starting point.
OK, I‘m sat at a table outside Antonio’s restaurant.
Nobody else is sat out here, but it sounds busy inside. I like this place. It overlooks the beach, and on a good night, you get to watch the changing colours of the sunset over the Irish Sea. You can gawp at joggers, strollers and skateboard punk rockers, and with a decent bottle of wine inside you and your best girl at your side, it can make you feel pretty good about the world. Coronation Street have even filmed here, apparently, so what more do I need say? Oh yeah, the food’s good too.

2. Walk in any direction for 50 - 100 paces, turn 180 degrees. Stop.
I did as I was told (I usually do) and I’m now sat on a bench outside the public baths. It’s 6:40 pm, so why are the doors open? It’s usually closed by now. Perhaps they’ve got an event on, a gala or something. With the wind in my sails I can swim a mile (64 lengths) in about 45 minutes, which isn’t anything to shout about but it’ll do for me. We used to have annual tickets and swam three or four times a week, just nipping in for 30 minutes if we felt like it, which was brilliant, but the council pissed about with the opening hours so much it became untenable. They seem to think the way to run a public service is to run it down, and lots of other season ticket holders haven’t renewed either, and have gone elsewhere for their swimming. I could go on, but instead I’ll tell you what’s on at the flicks, because I can see our little cinema from here too.
Shrek 2; Jersey Girl; Connie & Carla; Day After Tomorrow; Harry Potter 3; and Around The World In 80 Days. What do you reckon? Anything you fancy?
For the blockbuster Lord Of The Rings type films we go to the Odeon in Blackpool, but for ‘little’ films (Calendar Girls, Love Actually, etc.) we come here. It’s privately owned and a bit of a throwback to what cinemas used to be like before the multiplexes took over. Most of the screening rooms are shorter than they are wide. If you’re sat at the front and there are pensioners giggling on the back row, you can lean round and give them a slap.

3. Turn 180 degrees. Continue walking until you see something blue. Stop.
I just turned 180, and now I’ve done it again. Huh?
“Mummy, look at the man making himself dizzy! Why does he have a camera and a notepad with him?”
“Hush darling, he’s been reading My Boyfriend Is A Twat.”
“That explains everything. Cheers Mummy.”
The first blue thing I see is the door to the disabled toilets at the nice new café they’ve built by the boating pond.
A few years back, I think it would be fair to say that St. Annes was on the ropes.
To the south, neighbouring Lytham is affluent and refined, or so it would have you believe. It is home to more millionaires than anywhere else in the county. Wayne Rooney thought about buying a house there, but it wasn’t his bag.
Glitzy and brash Blackpool is just seven miles up the coast, with social problems aplenty, but in spite of a long term decline which they’re hoping to turn around by transforming it into the Las Vegas of the North (even more social problems ahoy as small hotels and businesses get crushed under the mighty boot of Big Business), the place hustles and bustles regardless. We are living in a golden age for alcohol abuse and Blackpool thrives on it. It’s got a stag / hen night vibe going on 24 x 7.
St. Annes teeters between these two poles. For a while it looked like it was set to slump into slow decay (one year there were no publicly funded Christmas decorations in the town at all), but it’s currently undergoing a Changing Rooms style makeover, all sleek curves and brushed chrome, and I think as long as it sticks to the game plan and holds it’s nerve, it’s in with a chance.

4 Make a left turn, walk 50 - 70 paces. Stop
Another view of the café and the new Lifeboat building. Check out those lines! It’s really windy and I’m worried about sand getting in my camera.

5. Walk in any direction until you see something that is, or looks like the number 7 or 11. Stop.
This was easy. I find one of those You Are Here maps. Number 7 is, according to the key, a “Source of drinking water.”

6. Take the first left continue and look for somewhere to sit. Stop.
The first left would take me down to the beach, and eventually the sea, where I would undoubtedly come to harm or at least get wet. Unless you include plonking yourself on the ground as “somewhere to sit,” I’ll be looking for somewhere to sit on the pier straight ahead. Of course, to the right of me there are countless benches, all poised and ready for my lovely arse, but I know my left from my right and will stick to the brief. Besides, I’ve always been a bit frightened of Zoe, and I wouldn’t want to incur her wrath just because I was too lazy to follow a few simple instructions properly.
On the way, I take note of what it says on this monument.

“This monument was erected by public subscription in memory of
William Johnson Coxwain
Charles Tims Sub Coxwain
Oliver Hodson Bowman
Thomas Bonney
James Bonney
Nicholas Parkinson
James M Dobson
James Johnson
Richard Fisher
John P Wignall
Thomas Parkinson
James M Dobson
James Johnson
Richard Fisher
John P Wignall
Thomas Parkinson
James Harrison
Reuben M. Tims
The crew of the St. Annes Lifeboat who lost their lives in a gallant attempt to rescue the crew of the German Barque “Mexico” wrecked off Southport on the night of the 9th December 1886.”

Twenty eight lives were lost in total, as lifeboats from Lytham and Southport were also involved in the incident. It remains - I think I’m right on this - the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s biggest single disaster.
The coroner‘s inquest is a sad thing indeed.

Back on the promenade, I see a man and boy trying to fly a kite down on the beach. I'd like a picture of the kite mid-flight, but just before I press the shutter the kite crashes in the strong breeze. The man then spends ages untangling a knot, before wandering off to looking for something, I don’t know what, that must have fallen off. He looks all over the place, and frankly I don’t think he’s going to find it, so I walk on.
This reminds me of when my Dad used to make kites for me out of bamboo canes and brown paper. The kites had long tails made of string and more brown paper, folded into little bows with sellotape. The kites never, ever flew because they weighed a bloody ton. This didn’t put my Dad off from going back to the drawing board, making design changes here and modifications there. Entire summers slipped through my grasp while my Dad tried to give the un-flyable flight. He could have just gone out and bought me one, but that wasn’t his way, and I guess this is a trait I’ve picked up from him, for better or worse.
Kite flying was quite the thing in the mid-seventies. Did anybody here ever get to grips with the Peter Powell Stunt Kite? (Try saying that ten times after a few glasses of cider.) I certainly never did.

It will be fourteen years ago tomorrow (Thursday) that my dear old Dad “pegged out”, as he used to say. He was 82. Not a bad age, especially for a former heavy smoker, Senior Service, without the filters. I was twenty four at the time, and I hadn’t yet paid back a single penny of the three thousand quid he lent me to buy my first car.
A year later I got my first proper job (and paid off the loan to my Mum), a year after that I met Girlfriend, and a year after that we bought a house together, and I finally started to get my life in order.
But none of that happened in my Dad’s lifetime, and I deeply regret my failure to make my own way in the world while he was alive. He would have liked Girlfriend too. And while I appreciate that 82 is a good innings, I’m fucking furious with the evil fucking cigarette manufacturer that robbed my Dad of the chance to see me finally getting airborne.

So anyway. I get to the pier. I turn left and find some seats by a Monopoly machine, but I’m too lost in thoughts about my Dad, and forget to sit on one of them. Duh! Sorry about that, Zoe.

7. Choose any direction and walk for 25 - 50 paces. Stop.
I’m sitting inside a comments box. I’ve learned that Rachel woz ere Hating Lee M. 4 Eva. Eva must have been pretty distraught if she’d roped Rachel in to hate Lee on her behalf.
I wholeheartedly agree with the commenter who wrote “ If you can’t write anything nice, don’t write anything.

8. Continue walking until you see an unusual colour, shape or texture. Turn 180 degrees. Stop.
A lovely smooth sand dune. Not an unusual texture as such, but attractive enough, and a nice picture.

9. Turn 180 degrees. Keep walking in any direction until you see an archway or unusual building feature. Walk to it and stop.
Buy one archway, get one free! Debate has raged in the letters page of the local paper regarding the trendification of the Square, and the money spent on it, the missed deadlines, the lost revenues suffered by businesses while the work was going on.
We must also have the world’s fanciest bus shelters.

10. Head for home and keep looking for something that catches your eye. Stop.
Town Hall May Win Partial Reprieve. The council wants to sell the town hall so that developers can knock it down and build obscenely expensive flats on the land. The town hall will be relocated to a rural location five miles out of town, on the very edge of the borough boundary, making it impossible or at least very expensive for people without cars to get to. Local shops, cafes, and even the swimming baths will lose the lunchtime trade that the town hall workers currently provide if the move is successful. It all makes perfect sense, no?
There’s a gorgeous smell of curry as I pass through the Café Quarter on my way home. It’s not exactly Parisian cafe life, but there are one or two nice eating places popping up here and there, and another sign that maybe just maybe the town could be on an upward curve. I don’t take a photo of the townie in a Burberry cap pissing against the wall of the Indian restaurant.

And finally home and another archway, also providing a work-in-progress glimpse of just some of the digging me and Girlfriend have been up to recently.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little walkabout around St. Annes on Sea, my home town, fifteen miles from Preston on the A584 and much nicer than Blackpool. And sorry about the pictures taking so bloody long to download. Over to you now, photography fans.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Send In The Clowns 

“Have you been drinking?”
“No, but I am in my pyjamas.”
“Is there a chance you’d be able to pick Beth up later on?”
“Yeah. I was half expecting this.”
“And give Bob a lift too?”
“Of course.”

Sometimes Girlfriend leaves the pub in time for the last train, and other times she doesn’t. Leanne is usually the reason when she doesn’t, and as Leanne owns and knows how to operate a mobile phone, the request to come and pick her up always comes from her.

This is fine by me. I always stay sober when Girlfriend’s out and although it’s a thirty mile round trip, I don’t mind fetching her. It’s nice to be out when the roads are quiet.
I persuade the doormen to let me in and find Girlfriend talking amongst friends in the otherwise empty pub. It’s well after midnight.

It’s good to see Leanne again, I really like her. I envy her gregarious nature, sunny disposition and action packed life.
She grew up in a circus, the family business, and had seen more of the world than most by the time she hit her teens, from Lancaster in the North right down to Stockport, from Liverpool to Burnley, far away in the east, all four points of the compass.
At five her Dad was throwing knives at her, by twelve she was Bolton’s premier trapeze artist and tightrope walker, and on her eighteenth birthday her parents presented her with two tigers and a whip and told her to get on with it.
The decline in fortunes of the circus coincided with the rise of Noel’s House Party, and nobody was more pleased than Leanne to see the abject failure of his Crinkly Bottom theme park in Morecambe, but by then it was too late. The writing was on the wall for Central Lancashire’s last travelling circus, and now the only knives she has to watch out for come from backstabbing bureaucrats and muddle headed middle-managers from Much Hoole. Office life comes to us all eventually.
These days her energies are channelled into scoring for her local ladies football team and taming an altogether different type of animal, but very occasionally, if you’re very lucky and there’s a new moon in the ascendancy behind the Reebok, she will still put on the greasepaint, dust off her clown’s outfit and throw a bucket of fake water over you when it tickles her fancy.

Charlie was in the pub too. She’s an absolute honey. I’ll tell you about her another time.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bigmouth Strikes Again 

Here’s a little tip. No, I don’t mean a small cash payment in return for services rendered. I want to share an important life skill with you.

Upon encountering a woman with pointy bosoms, let’s say in the corridor by the wonky coffee machine, it is generally considered bad form if you exclaim “Pointy bosoms!” as you pass.
Not realising that you were speaking out loud is, apparently, no defence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Life In The Fast Lane 

Whenever a fire alarm rings, it sounds a warning that I’m about to take part in a re-enactment of my schooldays.

The car park becomes a playground, where the cool in-crowd people hang in one cluster, the brainy swot types congregate in another, and the weirdos and misfits who belong to neither camp stand dotted about in fire practice limbo, awkward and out of place like a bad metaphore.

The fire marshalls are dinner ladies, rustling in their plastic overalls, rounding up the stragglers and counting heads, hurry along, single file!, no you can’t go back to fetch your phone, come on or we’ll be toast.
We mock them as they chatter into their walkie talkies, can you hear me now?, ten ten ‘til we do it again good buddy, and they respond with officious clipboard wielding and stern looks.

Some of us slope off to the sandwich shop or the ice cream van. Others disappear for a fag, or disappear altogether.

An ejaculation of salesmen sit gloating on the wall, with their RayBans and Bluetooth earpieces, looking for all the world like emissaries from Planet Twat, making deals, doing business, cutting corners, greasing the wheels, booking their seat at the captain’s table. These are the school prefects, the headmaster’s golden boys, his crack squad of sales storm troopers, for whom the bell never tolls and life in the fast lane is not a song by The Eagles but a statement of intent. High in the upper echelons, where the air is thin and different rules apply, speed is a right, not a privilege, dog eats dog, power corrupts and the winning is more important than the taking part.

We clear the building in five minutes. Half of us would have got out alive.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Banana Republic 

“What have you got in your mouth?”
“What have you got in your mouth?”
“I found it in the road.”
“What I have I told you about that?”
“It’s clean. I checked.”
“Spit it out.”
“Nice banana custard last night, by the way.”
“That’s not a euphemism, in case you were wondering.”
“Good. Hey, guess how many marbles I‘ve found to date?”
“Erm. Seventeen?”
“No. Twenty!”
“Just like it says in the blog! Cool. Life imitates art, and all that.”
“Well, you know, blog thing.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times 

It’s the tail end of lunch hour, and I’m sat in one corner of the canteen, splashing soup onto a magazine. At another table Spike is telling Mike about what he got up to on his holidays.

Mike: So did you then?
Spike: Oh yeah, you’ve got to when you do Vegas. It’s obligatory.
Mike: Good lad! We were going to get some of that in our pub. Bikini tops, silver hot pants and rollerblades. Just what you want to see when you’re supping ale.
Spike: What? In Blackburn?
Mike: Oh aye.
Spike: And a room at the back where they take you for a jump?
Mike: Aye. Be a bit uncomfortable, mind. That’s where they keep the boxes of crisps.
Spike: If you weren’t careful you’d end up with your nads stinking of cheese and onion.

They both roared with laughter. Then they looked over to check that I was enjoying their excellent joke too. I smiled weakly and waved my spoon to register my approval.
A lot of the time I really don’t feel like I fit in very well here. It's enough to make you stop and think. I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Absent Friends 

Digging’s pretty rubbish, isn’t it? I won’t be sorry to see the back of it.
The soil in our garden is unremittingly sandy – grab a handful and it slips away through your fingers like dust, or time. Dig a hole, and it fills itself in again while your back is turned. You begin to wonder if it’s trying to tell you something. But what? Leave it buddy, go watch the football instead? Chill out, have a beer. Go feed the blog.
And sawing is even worse. The wood feels so damp, the teeth keep getting bogged down and stuck. It seems to close itself in around the saw, like a healing wound, making it as unbudgeable as the sword in the stone. What’s that all about?

The best part has been watching Girlfriend’s extraordinary marble detection skills at work. She can sniff them out like a pig finding truffles. I’ve found just two marbles, to her twenty.
We’ve also found a golf ball, the rusty whacking end of a golf club and two golf tees; a tiny plastic toy girl in a red dress; a five peseta piece; a lump of wood the shape and size of a chocolate mini-egg, with a faded pattern and a loop of thread for hanging; one side of the frame of an aluminium double glazing unit that we couldn’t shift and had to end up burying again; three or four unidentified bones; and lots of lumps of coal from when the house would have had coal fires instead of central heating.

Last year when we were stripping wallpaper, I uncovered a message on the wall that read simply “Arthur and Graham 1967.” I’ve been hoping to learn more about Arthur and Graham’s alliance, maybe via a Blue Peter style time capsule.

“Hi. We are Arthur and Graham. It is 1967. We are the World Champions at football. The Beatles have just released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We like it a lot, it is very different from anything we have ever heard before. The Sixties is more of a London thing. It won’t arrive North for some time yet. You are one year old, Tim. We hope you are very happy living in our house, and we like what you’re doing with that footpath.”

So far no such capsule has been forthcoming. I was also hoping to unearth a Rickenbacker twelve string, and maybe a seven inch copy of This Charming Man in mint condition, but these too, like a cure for cancer or the secret of eternal youth, remain undiscovered for the time being.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Three Steps To Heaven 

Email from Charlotte to whole company:
14/06/04 10:41

There is a bop in the bop sh-bop sh-bop. Further to this, there is also a dip in the dip-di-di-di-dip, and a ram in the ram-alam-a-ding-dong.
If you know who put them there, please could you ask him or her to remove them immediately. Rex informs me that they are causing an obstruction in the stairway and the men who have come to install new furniture in the management suite can’t get it up.

Thank you,


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sloop John B 

For no good reason, I couldn’t sleep again last night, so I tiptoed up to my Attic Studio Complex to engage in a bit of finger picking and listen to some music on headphones. It’s my private hideaway (wasn’t that a River Phoenix film?), and somewhere beneath the papers and CDs and wires on the desk there is a post-it note, written when I first set sail on this little blogging adventure, intended to act as a kind of compass, or my very own personal Northern Star, to help me stay on course.

“We’re lost Captain!”
“Nay lad, just consult the post-it note and you’ll be alright. Ahaa!”
“Aye aye Captain! Good idea! Let’s see what it says. ‘If you can’t be above criticism, then at least be beyond comprehension.’ What the fuck is that supposed to be mean? That’s just bollocks!”
“Ahaa! Bollocks, lad. Perhaps it means you should just write bollocks.”
“Mmm. You know Captain, I think you could be right. Bollocks it is then!”
“Now then , me hearty, how about some of my tasty fish fingers?”
“You’re not Captain bloody Birdseye. Stick to the metaphorical nautical advice please.”
“Aye lad. This beard really tickles.”
“Don’t try to build your part up.”

Thursday, June 03, 2004

God Only Knows 

A man and a woman are sat on a sofa. His arm is around her shoulder, and she is snuggled in towards him, her head on his chest. They are watching the end of a not terribly entertaining sitcom on television.

“Heyyy! Extinct! That sounds good. I could live with that!”

Audience applauds.
Lights dim, and fade to black.
The house band plays the outgoing theme music.

Announcer: If you’re affected by any of the issues discussed in this programme, the comments box below is gagging to hear from you. And coming up next, more of the usual crap from the Big Brother laboratory. For pity’s sake, at least stay tuned for the adverts.

The woman switches off the television.
Girlfriend: That was half an hour of our lives we’ll never get back again.
Tim: Yeah. Weak. And who was the main bloke in it?
Girlfriend: Imaginary Dave?
Tim: No. The other one.
Girlfriend: Tim. The same name as you, duh!
Tim: Yeah, Tom that’s right.
Girlfriend: TIM!
Tim: What? Anyway - that Tom - did he have his head up his own arse or what?
Girlfriend: I guess. *Yawns* So what shall we do now?
Tim: Mmm. Let’s see. How about a song?
Girlfriend: A song?
Tim: A song! Why not? Hey Jimmy - a one, and a two, and a four!

Jimmy is the house band leader. Hey! This is one of those clever endings that they always tag on at the end of a sitcom, after the credits have rolled and you think it’s finished. And in this case, after the telly’s been switched off. Groundbreaking! Tim proceeds to sing Hanging Around - the Robbie Williams / Burt Bacharach number that everyone has been so keenly anticipating. Exclusively available here!

Tim (gazing into Girlfriend’s eyes): We could go out, or stay here instead. Go to the pub or go to bed. I don’t mind - I’m having a wonderful time. We could go for a walk, visit the park…

(The camera now shows the two of them strolling hand in hand through a park, playing on the swings, feeding ducks, goofing around on an empty bandstand, etc.)

…frighten the pigeons until dark. I don’t care, as long as you are there.
Year after year of bumming around, drinking beer, I want you to know I’m happy to be here hanging around with you. Every night and every day, no matter what - we’ll be OK. Whatever life throws our way, I’m gonna be there for you…

(Now the couple are dressed for an evening on the town. The camera follows them enjoying the various possibilities that Preston’s nightlife has to offer. Not the seedy strip joints though, obviously. It’s like one of those promotional films you get before each song on the Eurovision Song Contest.)

…We could go see a film, or take in a show. A table for two, or pizza to go. Horsing around, hitting the town, hanging around with you. I’ll call us a cab, you’ll call me absurd. I’m telling you kid, you’re one hell of a bird…

(Camera shows Tim falling off a restaurant table. He has a pizza stuffed into his trousers.)

…I’ll sing it out loud - I’m terribly proud to be hanging around with you.
Year after year of bumming around, drinking beer, I want you to know I’m happy to be here hanging around with you. Every night and every day, no matter what - we’ll be OK. Whatever life throws our way, I’m gonna be there for you. There for you, just hanging around!

(As the music draws to a close, the camera zooms out, revealing a vast panorama of Preston in all it’s glittery glory: the Ribble shimmering seductively as it reflects the city lights; the famous Preston skyline silhouetted against a starry sky - the towering church spires, the multi-story car park above the bus station, the Guild Hall, Harriss Museum and Art Gallery and the many majestic municipal buildings. There is magic in the car fumes on this lovely lovely night.
The final scene shows Tim and Girlfriend canoodling in the moonlight on a bench in Winckley Square, with squirrels gathered at their feet, ostensibly gazing up adoringly like doting grandchildren, but actually causing a distraction while other squirrels root through their coat pockets for anything of potential value that they could sell the following day in the city’s many fine pubs, nightclubs and after hours drinking establishments. The picture fades to black, deep velvety black. Even the twinkling stars and satellites succumb to the darkness, darker and darker still, deep, deep into the infinite blah blah blah, I’m sure you get the idea.)

Tim: Fancy some tiramisu? I’ve still got some here in my hair. It tastes okay actually.
Girlfriend: Euurghh! You are the most disgusting person I’ve ever met!
Tim: Disgusting but lovable?
Girlfriend: Let me think about that for a moment… Erm… No - just disgusting. And you smell funny.
Tim: God only knows what I’d be without you. Are you sure you don’t want some?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Moonlight Shadow 

Voiceover : A Free Man In Preston is recorded in front of a live studio audience.

Title music : I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free - I’ve been to Widnes, but I’ve never been to Leigh.

The scene is an elegant dining room. The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is playing in the background. The lighting is soft and low. The table has been laid for three. The atmosphere is one of relaxed sophistication. It is a warm summer evening, and the sound of birdsong filters through the opened French windows. A beautiful and stylishly dressed young woman enters the room, calmly straightens the cutlery and lights some candles at the table. After a short while, a man covered in flour and tomato sauce stumbles into the room in a state of blind panic. He is not wearing any trousers.

Tim: I can’t find my fucking trousers anywhere! I think I might have cooked them.
Girlfriend: They’re on your head Tim. That’s why you can’t see where you’re going.
Tim: Oh yeah! I remember now! Have I got time to have another shower?
Girlfriend: You’ve had three already tonight…
Tim: But that was before the thing with the pasta.
Girlfriend: It’s almost eight o’clock.
Tim: But look at me - I’m a mess.
Girlfriend: Go on then, but be quick. I’ve laid out a fresh set of clothes on the bed for you.
Tim gives her a grateful smile and exits the room. The audience hears the sound of a man falling up stairs.
Girlfriend (shouting): And if you mess those up, you’ll just to have to wear your pyjamas! Like on Christmas Day!

The camera closes in on a clock on the mantelpiece. Initially it reads three minutes to eight. The hands swish forward in speeded up time, and now they read half past nine.
There are three people sat around the dining table, talking and laughing. Much wine has been consumed.

Diana: So then Tim says - “I can’t find my fucking trousers anywhere! I think I might have cooked them!”
All three laugh hysterically.
Girlfriend: You know Diana, I can’t tell you how often that happens around here.
(Cue small ripple of laughter from the audience.)
Tim: I’ll go and make some coffee. Feel free to talk about something other than my trouser problems while I’m away.

The scene changes to the kitchen. Tim is filling a kettle badly and splashing water all over himself when the telephone rings. After some comical difficulty juggling tap, kettle and coffee maker, Tim eventually manages to answer the phone.

Dave the Imaginary Music Publisher: Hey Tim! Listen, I can’t talk for long - I’m at a really wild party.

There is a huge round of applause for Imaginary Dave. Tim looks a little fed up that Dave is a much more popular character than himself with the audience. He is afraid that when A Free Man In Preston is eventually and inevitably cancelled, Imaginary Dave will go on to have an even more successful spin off series, and A Free Man In Preston will be largely forgotten about.

Tim: Oh hi Dave! You’re very faint mate. Turn the special effects CD down a little, will you?
Dave: But I’m not playing it today Tim.
Tim: Oh yeah, my mistake. That’ll be coming from my dining room. We’ve got Diana round for dinner.
Dave: She’s that fit bird what fancies me, isn’t she?
Tim: Well, I don’t know if she ever said that…
Dave: So what’s she look like then? Spill the beans.
Tim: If I spill any more beans I’ll have to wear my pyjamas Dave, and it’s not that kind of evening.
Dave: Pity. I’d come round if I was in town. How about that song for Robin Williams? Is it finished yet?
Tim: I’ve been digging holes in the garden. And it’s Robbie Williams.
Dave: Yeah. That’s what I said.
Tim: I’m working on it, Dave, that’s the best I can say. Look, I’m trying to boil some water. I’ll call you soon.

Meanwhile in the dining room, Diana and Girlfriend are discussing mysterious girl things.

Diana: Anyway, enough of mysterious girl things. There’s something I want to talk with you about while Tim is conveniently out of earshot at the back of the stage.
Girlfriend: Sounds interesting.
Diana: Not really. Pretty dull in fact. It’s just that these past few weeks he’s been writing a diary and posting it on the internet. I think he’s been meaning to tell you about it but doesn’t have the nerve. I thought you should know.
Girlfriend: What sort of a diary?
Diana: They call it a weblog, or blog for short. Everybody’s doing it, by the look of it. He writes about you, and me sometimes, and stuff that goes on at work.
Girlfriend: Carry on.
Diana: Erm. He’s even got this imaginary friend called Dave.
Girlfriend: Yes, I think that’s Dave on the phone now. And don’t tell me - he calls himself Tim instead of Engelbert?
Diana: You know about it then?
Girlfriend: A Free Man In Preston? Phew, for a second I thought you were going to tell me something serious.
Diana: Bloody hell! How long have you known about it? And how?
Girlfriend: Because when he first started it, he told me about it. And then obviously became so engrossed in his funny little cyber existence that he forgot he’d told me. He forgets things all the time. I thought it would only last a week or two at most. He usually loses interest and starts doing something else. That’s why he gets so little music finished. Because he takes up photography, or…
Diana: Or digging holes.
Girlfriend: Yeah that’s his latest one. He calls it gardening, but it’s actually just digging holes.
Diana: And you’re just going to let him carry on thinking that you don’t know about it?
Girlfriend: I dunno. I suppose so. Or maybe he’ll read this conversation we’re having and the penny will drop.
Diana: But you don’t mind him writing about you?
Girlfriend: Not really. As long as he keeps it all in perspective, and doesn’t start thinking that blogging matters more than it does. There’s been a couple of times I was concerned about him, but on the whole it’s been pretty harmless. Hey, isn’t this supposed to be a comedy episode? Where did all the jokes go?
Diana: Oh, I expect there’ll be some half assed attempt at humour along any …

At that moment, Tim bursts into the room in a blind panic. Coffee is spilt down his shirt, there is tiramisu in his hair and his trousers are on fire.
Tim: Quick! There is tiramisu in my hair, but more pressingly, my trousers are on fire! Do we have a fire distinguisher?
Girlfriend: Don’t forget the coffee spilt down your shirt.
Tim: Oh yeah. How did that happen?
Girlfriend: Beats me.
Tim: Come on girls, I’m on fire here!
Diana: You’ve written better in the past, I think.
Tim: For fuck’s sake! Do we have a fire distinguisher?
Girlfriend: No, but we do have two jugs of iced water! Who was that on the phone, by the way?
Tim: Oh, nobody.
Girlfriend and Diana smile at each other and then throw the jugs of water over Tim, putting out the fire in his trousers. And that’s not a euphemism. Well, I suppose it is a bit, actually.
Girlfriend and Diana simultaneously: There! You’re extinct now!
Tim: Heyyy! Extinct! That sounds good. I could live with that!

Audience applauds.
Lights dim, and fade to black.
The house band plays the outgoing theme music.
Audience leaves their seats and goes home. House lights come on. Technicians and crew clear away the stage. Tim wanders absent mindedly across the set, picking tiramisu out of his hair and eating it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

In Dreams 

Voiceover : A Free Man In Preston is recorded in front of a live studio audience.

Title music : I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free - I’ve been to Widnes, but I’ve never been to Leigh.

The scene is a busy office canteen. There are a dozen tables, mostly occupied. The atmosphere is chatty and friendly. The décor is fifties Americana. A Wurlitzer jukebox stands in one corner of the room, playing In Dreams by Roy Orbison. The camera pans down to a young woman sitting alone at a table near the window. She is reading a typed script.

A young man enters the room. (Cue canned applause.) He is handsome and in terrific shape. His jet black hair is slicked back. He wears a Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned several buttons down, revealing a large gold medallion on his smooth and well toned chest.
Everybody in the canteen looks pleased to see him entering in the room - there is a distinct buzz of excitement - and all call out in unison “Hey Tim!”

Tim: Hey everybody! Howz it hangin’? Don’t you stop eatin’ on my account. Hey Louis - finish that soup before it gets cold!
(Ripple of laughter from the audience. This is a well loved catch phrase.)
Tim moves to the table where the young woman is seated. She is the only person not to have noticed his arrival.
Tim: Hey Sexy! Mind if I join you?
Diana: Oh hi Tim! How’s things?
Tim: Things are good. Things are real good!
Diana: So why are you dressed up looking like a twat then?
Tim: I thought my character needed pepping up a bit.
Diana: And you thought this could be fixed by dressing up like Sam out of Cheers, and acting like you were The Fonz?
Tim: Heyyyyy!
Diana: Muppet!
Tim: So what do you think? I got this medallion for ten quid on Preston market. I think it makes me look distinguished.
Diana: It makes you look virtually extinct, if you‘re asking my opinion.
Tim: Hey! Extinct! That sounds good. I could live with that!
(Small ripple of laughter from audience.)
Diana: So did you talk to your girlfriend over the weekend?
Tim: Sure. Lots of times.
Diana: About your blog?
Tim: Erm. I’ve got a plan. It’s in pre-production. It’s shaping up nicely.
Diana: Shaping up nicely my arse!
Tim: Well I wasn’t going to say anything, but those trousers really suit you…
Diana: Come off it, Blog Monkey! You haven’t got the bottle have you?
Tim: The jukebox has gone quiet. Have you got a nickel?
Diana: You know it’s free, now don’t try to change the subject.
Tim: Fancy a cup of tea? I’ll just go and ask Kath…
Diana: Sit down!
Tim: I need to go to the toilet!
Diana: Well just cross your legs.
Tim: Can you smell burning?
Diana: Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, you fuckwit!

Diana throws her script up in the air. Sheets of paper gather round her feet, like confetti, or rising flood water. There’s a small gasp of recognition from the audience, and for a moment there’s an awkward silence. For three seconds the faces of the actors are held in freeze frame. It’s a chilling three seconds. Was she the one in the newsagents? Tearing up Bride magazine? But there’s no time to dwell on it now - today we’re in fast moving comedy mode.

Tim: That was your script! How will you know what to say now?
Diana: I’ll just have to make it up as I go along won’t I? I usually manage alright. Now listen. What are you doing tomorrow evening?
Tim: Digging holes. It’s my new hobby.
Diana: And what about your girlfriend?
Tim: She follows round after me, filling them in again.
(Small ripple of laughter from the audience.)
Diana: Well tomorrow you’re having a change. Get some food in, and get something prepared for, shall we say eight o’clock? Splendid. Tell your girlfriend I can’t wait to meet her at last.
Tim: But what shall I…? Will it be a formal…? What should I wear?
Diana: Wear anything you like Tim, just so long as it’s not that hideous Hawaiian shirt!
(Another ripple of laughter)

Diana stands up, gives Tim a peck on the cheek, before walking briskly off the set. Tim is suddenly alone on the stage now, even the canteen window is shut up. He picks up the sheets of discarded script from the floor in silence.
Cut the lights and fade to black.
Cue end credits and generous canned applause from the audience.
The house band plays an outro of the “I’ve Been To Widnes…” theme music, in a cheesy mock-Hawaiian style.

To be continued...

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