If I talked at a school


It’s August 1981.
See if anyone guesses.

That was me, on the left.
We were called the Rhine River Three.
Our singer looked good but I’m afraid he couldn’t sing.
In the days before autotune that mattered.
Why am I showing your this, other than to get a laugh?
Well, this was me then.
And this is me 37 years later.
My brain has blank spots where the cells are dead.
Can anyone tell me the main thing about strokes?

I’ve had a stroke in the left hand side of my brain.
That means the right side of my body doesn’t work.
Can anyone who does biology explain this to us?

What it means is:
Right face doesn’t work.
Right leg doesn’t work.
Right arm doesn’t work.
Of course, I was right handed.
This has given me a problem with right and left.
Because I now have to use this hand, I assume it’s the right.
So if someone says: turn right, I go this way. Left.
I drove pre stroke.
Post stroke I took driving lessons to try to get my licence back.
But the right/left thing affected my feet too.
As I slowed down at a roundabout, I might suddenly press the accelerator by mistake. Argh!

In short, I didn’t think I would turn out like this.
I didn’t want to turn out like this.
But I did.
It took some getting used to.
Like Sheila, my aunt, I might still be going strong in 36 years!
But after 4 1/2 years, I can finally stand here and say: this is who I am!
Any questions?

Some people would like to find out more about strokes and the way they change people.
I thought of a list of film people with strokes:
Michelangelo Antonioni
Catherine Breillat
Kirk Douglas (101!)
Robert Evans
Jane Lapotaire
John Milius
Samantha Morton
Patricia Neal
Alma Reville, Mrs Hitchcock
Sharon Stone
Anyone else?

I say ‘some people’ above because other people don’t want to know.
I don’t in any way hold it against people who don’t want to find out more.
Till the age of 49, I was one of them! I was much too busy writing screenplays and being a husband and a father to three boys. And I would have liked to have gone on being like that.
But life, fate, medical negligence, whatever you want to call it, had different ideas!
Luckily I have the most amazing son.
I’m not just saying that.
He saved my life, when he was 12.
Maybe you’d like to hear the story.
I hope so, because I’ll tell it anyway!

It was July 26th, 2013, a Friday in the summer holidays. My wife was out somewhere in the car, and I decided to take our three boys swimming. We have a hut at wrabness on the river stour. You can only swim at high tide when the tide comes in. so we went by train, at about three o’clock in the afternoon . It’s only one stop but then it’s about 20 minutes walk, longer when you have a six year old in tow. And it was very hot. We stopped for ice creams on the way. Finally we got there and the boys went in the sea while I opened the hut up. Then I started feeling very strange, sat down on the floor, and threw up. And I remember thinking: I must pull myself together before the boys come out.
Anyway, finally the boys came out and found me. I couldn’t talk or move. James , the eldest, was 12 at the time and he found my phone and rang my wife. She was driving home and was about half an hour away. she asked james if there was anyone else on the beach. It’s always very quiet there but far up the beach he could see a couple and he went and got them. I don’t remember them to look at but I think their name was Hitchcock! They came over and took one look at me and quickly called an ambulance. They presumably could see I’d had a stroke.
The Hitchcocks, if that’s what they were called, looked after me and the boys until a first responder arrived . Then the ambulance couldn’t make it down the track to the beach so I had to somehow get in the first responder’s car and be driven up to the ambulance. My wife had turned up by now and she came to the hospital with me. And the Hitchcocks took the boys home to our house. And then went out of our lives back to London.
Any questions so far?

Show them The Scientist video.
Anyone know it?
What do you think?

I was working on a screenplay with the guy who directed this before I had the stroke. I thought it was the best video ever made. Not because of the song. I can take or leave that. But the way it’s made.
After I had the stroke, I showed it to my mother and even she, aged 79, thought it was amazing.
it just makes me cry and cry.
Like I’m probably doing now.
That’s one thing: post stroke, most of the time, I’m quite emotionally distant. But sometimes I just start crying.
Usually it’s because:
1) a stranger has been kind, or
2) someone on the news is in a wheelchair/on crutches. Even Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, I find ridiculously moving.
After the stroke, this video as I saw it was all about me.
The guy in the car, Chris Martin, is me.
Because he has brain damage, he doesn’t realise that his girlfriend is dead on the floor.
He just wants to walk off into the woods singing!
I don’t know if the director has the same opinion.

Before the stroke I was a screenwriter.
I wrote a lot of screenplays and treatments, and was quite well paid for them.
Two feature films were made, both got 3 stars in The Guardian, which was right as far as I was concerned. They weren’t very good. They weren’t terrible either. They were 3 stars.
Another film was made which I wrote a script for, and was paid for, but they used somebody else’s script. That was ok too because he was a more established and better writer than me anyway! But still, I couldn’t bear to see the film.
Post stroke, I didn’t think about writing at all for 6 months. Just sat looking out of the window with my headphones on.
And then I thought: oh, that’s weird, because I’m a writer. Uh oh.
A writer who doesn’t write any more. An ex writer.
And then I got extremely depressed.
I haven’t been able to write screenplays since then.
Any questions?

Screenplays are a very technical form of writing.
I was good at them because I was extremely organised.
I wrote versions of each screenplay again and again, in accordance with the producer‘s demands.
Anybody have any experience of writing screenplays?

Probably none of you knows how to write them.
So I learned this technical version of writing in my 20s.
It lasted me till I was 49.
Since then it took me four years of not writing anything, and barely reading anything either, before I thought of something to do.
At 25, I didn’t have anything to write about, which was partly why I took up screenwriting. Most screenwriters are professional writers rather than people who’ve led extraordinary lives. They make stuff up!
But at 54 I found I did have something to write about. My memories.
So I just started doing that, in chronological order, and with (to me at least) complete frankness.
As people came up in my story, I emailed them to check things.
That’s the whole point for me: complete frankness.
Fiction doesn’t do it for me anymore. Sorry.

With my memories, I started in January 1991 and have reached August.
If I don’t think of anything else to do, it will take me a long time, typing with one finger, to get up to today. 3 or 4 years, maybe.
And that’ll be fine, because I don’t have anything else to write, and 40 years to fill.

Any questions, which I’ll try to answer with total frankness!


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

3 thoughts on “If I talked at a school”

  1. I see what you mean about that video John. I’d never seen it. It really is beautiful and pleasing. It’s a perfect story – economical and surprising. I did wonder how much of it was reversed in post and whether bits must have been filmed with him actually walking backwards because his lips were moving in sync to the music. Surely if someone is singing or mouthing words and it’s reversed they’d not come out in sync to the music? Not that it matters. It was moving seeing this with you in mind John and thinking about the crash you had.


    1. Yes, it’s a brilliant film. The director is Jamie Thraves. Chris Martin learned the song backwards, and sang it that way, and then the whole film was reversed. Makes me cry just to think about it. Such a simple idea and so powerful. Hope to see you soon. I’m back in London on the 19th, hopefully.


      1. Fancy learning the song backwards! Fascinating. I wonder if you have to say the syllables of the words in reverse too or just the words…? I was taken by surprise by the ending. It’d be great to see you when you’re in London John.


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