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!


His day at the beach

I’ve dug out the writing and typed it up as I wrote it so you needn’t try deciphering my handwriting.

It was like any old day at the beach hut. The waves washed upon the shore, butterflies fluttered by, birds sang in the summer sun – no one could have expected it to end in such disaster. We had got up late and slowly, caught the midday train just in time, and wandered lackadaisically down to out small hut on the beach, stopping off briefly to pick up some light refreshments at the village shop and chatting amiably with the cheerful woman behind the till.
My brothers and I were glad to be down at the beach again with our father. He had been busy at work and arguing intermittently with our mother. He was very stressed – recently he’d been to the doctor’s more frequently to check up about his irregular heartbeat – however he had been prescribed appropriate medication and undergone an operation recently to correct the rhythm. But today the sun was shining and we could laugh and jest. Leaving him to get changed, my brothers and I, already in our trunks and sun cream applied enthusiastically, sprinted to the water and leapt in guffawing and splashing with abandon. Time passed and we tired but continued playing, however our father had not joined us. We had forgotten in our play, but it was his weekend off with us and we wanted him to join in our fun.
Eventually, reluctantly, and being the eldest, I decided to leave the comfort of the cool river, to tiptoe, shivering in the breeze, up to the hut, without any worry playing my mind. Arriving at the hut I saw my father resting on the steps. “Come on, Dad!” I said, “We’ve been waiting for you for ages.”
Upon receiving no response I got closer – perplexed but unconcerned as of yet. Again I questioned him but he made no comprehensible reply – instead he seemed to emit a groan like a sick animal, unsure of its predicament. This bizarre and unnatural behaviour began to frighten me. Still not understanding the severity of the situation, I continued to talk to him. Yet as his responses became no less confused, my panic and sense of dread grew and grew. A quiver in my voice I asked “Dad? Are you all right? What’s wrong?”
Then, tears pricking at my eyes – my distress clearly exhibited – I bombarded him with my fearful queries: “Dad! What is it? Has someone died? Is it work? Dad! Is it mum? A divorce? Dad! Dad! Say something!”
Still I received no reply and now I noticed how his foot was bent unnaturally under the step and his face sloped to the side. Terrified, I only knew one thing to do: call Mum. I ran into the hut, fumbling desperately for my dad’s bag and his phone therein. With shaking fingers I dialled my mother’s number and waited what seemed an age – my heart palpitating in my chest. No response! Voicemail! In full-thrown panic I tried again: boop, boop, boop the ringtone went, tears no rolling down my salt-stained cheeks.
She picked up. “Mum! Mum!” I cried, “Something’s wrong! Something’s wrong with Dad!”
“What? What is it?” she asked, her own distress immediately apparent.
“I don’t know! He’s not talking, just making weird noises – and something’s wrong with his face!” I said.
“OK, I’m on my way!” she replied, “Go get help!”
Putting back the phone, I stumbled back into the sunlight, past my moaning father and scanned the beach for aid. Fortunately it was a busy day and there was a family not too far away down the beach. Normally, I would have been far too shy to even make eye-contact, but, in my desperation, I overcame that and ran to them.
“Oh, hello,” the father said, “Are you all right?”
“It’s – it’s my Dad,” I stuttered, “Something’s really wrong – I don’t understand – please, can you come with me? Come and help!”
He and his wife got up immediately and I led them at a pace back to the hut. Judging by the concern and shock on their faces I knew something was, indeed, seriously wrong. They sat with him and spoke to him but again to no avail. Suddenly, he made a stranger noise and lent forward awkwardly – and vomited on the sand. It was thin and pink and thoroughly disgusting. Without a moment’s hesitation the man took out his phone and dialled the emergency services as the woman sat my dad up again and spoke to him, grabbing a bowl from inside in case he threw up again – which he did. Again and again.
I just stood. Paralysed by fear and incomprehension, staring at my father who I could not recognise. At length, the husband explained the situation to the operator, giving detailed instructions on how to find us down the bumpy turn-off that headed the trail to the shore. His frustration, too, gave me cause for fear until at last it seemed the message had been conveyed, and an ambulance was on its way.
At some point, I could not say when, I must have sat down and my brothers come up from the water, finally intrigued by my delay. Other beachgoers had gathered to assist and now, my initial role over, I could just sit. And I did. Staring at my – what must be my father – but terrifying. The lack of expression on his face and awkward position – and worst of all the fear – pure fear – I perceived in his eyes. This man I hold in such high repute – brought so low by a cause I could not understand. My brothers’ countenances offered no further elucidation. My younger seemed just as perplexed and concerned, sitting silently in the shade. And the youngest, at first scared in the way a six-year-old is, had lapsed into playing in the sand nonchalantly – unaware of the disaster that had struck.
I do not remember what went through my mind, except the flood of relief and conviction that “he’d be OK” upon hearing that the ambulance was coming to find him. But the fear never really left me – it never really has.

Didn’t realise it was so long – wrote it for a mock English gcse earlier this year. It’s not wholly accurate, a bit embellished, but I hope it might help at all.

All the best,


That day at the beach

In July 2013, I went swimming with my 3 sons. I was a screenwriter on my day off. The sons went in the river – and I had a stroke. I was 49.
Three months’ rehab taught me to talk and walk again (sort of). But it was only when I went back home that I realised life would be very different. To add insult to (brain) injury, I found I couldn’t write.
But now, 6 years later, I can. Differently…

It was 26 July 2013, a Friday in the summer holidays. A film I’d written was showing in Colchester that evening and I was due to answer questions after it. I always looked forward to that sort of thing. I was so used to talking about my screenplays and meeting indifference that to talk about them and meet enthusiasm (however mild) was refreshing. My wife was out giving a talk about her novel and I decided to take our 3 boys swimming. We have a hut at Wrabness on the Stour estuary, which is tidal; you can only swim at high water. Today it was scheduled for 4pm.
We went by train. It’s only one stop but then it’s about 20 minutes’ walk, longer when you have a 6-year-old in tow. 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 up the hut.
Then I started to feel very strange, sat down on the floor and threw up. And I remember thinking: I must pull myself together before the boys come out…
Finally my eldest son – 12 at the time – came out and found me. I couldn’t talk or move much. He found my phone and rang my wife who was driving home, half an hour away. She asked him if there were anyone else on the beach. It’s always very quiet there but in the distance he could see a couple. (I don’t remember them to look at but their name was Hitchcock!) They came over, took one look at me and quickly called an ambulance. They could see I’d had a stroke.
The Hitchcocks 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. The Hitchcocks took the boys home to our house. And went out of our lives back to London…
I never did make it to my film. It was called The Liability.