‘Football is a fertility festival. Eleven sperm trying to get into the egg. I feel sorry for the goalkeepeer.’
I remember Bjork saying that and it provoked thought. Imagine a village 5000 years ago: 50 ppl and a VERY LIMITED gene pool. You interbreed – not a great result in terms of the generations. Or the successful village is the one which goes out to other villages and gets its hands on other women. That was what the Rape of the Sabines was about, or any Viking raid.
As time went by, this becomes more of a ritual: a village team goes to an opposing village and plays a ritual game – football. The team who gets the most balls into the net – ie fertilises the most women – ‘wins’ and they’d take the allotted women back to marry and procreate. And the women are given a name which often shows what village they come from now.
This explains the ferocity of football fans’ feelings: the future of our village is at stake!
And it explains why the Women’s World Cup (specifically England v Scotland last night) was so poorly attended. Women are the GOAL, surely?
The previous summer my dad had taken me to a Test Match at Lord’s, England v Australia. While we were there seeing Bob Massie take 16 wickets, Dad saw Jim Laker coming out of the Radio 4 booth and got me his autograph on a scorecard. At 8, I didn’t really know who this old guy was (Laker was 50!) – but my father was excited and it made me think about autographs. I was duly given a red autograph book for my birthday or Christmas – and waited for someone halfway famous.
For some reason I had the book with me the following year – still unautographed – when I visited the Wrathall grandparents where they lived in Ledborough Lane, Beaconsfield. We went to Bekonscot, the model village on the next street, and there, in front of us, was none other than Doug McClure! He was my favourite tv star at the time on the strength of The Virginian, in which he played Trampas. I got his autograph. Number 1!
Even aged 9 I thought it curious that Doug McClure should be at Bekonscot – alone, if I remember right. Later I worked it out. The Land That Time Forgot was shooting at Shepperton around that time and I imagine its leading actor had ventured out on a grey day to see the sights. He took a day off from model dinosaurs to see some model villagers.
That was the last autograph I ever got.
New Year’s Eve. We’d been invited to a fancy dress party in Holbrook. I’d never actually been in fancy dress before. The venue was a huge converted cattle shed – a place where I’d watched an Oscar-winning Italian film on Valentine’s Day 2014 and plotted my own death. For some reason, late in the afternoon, I had a bath, thought ‘wtf’ – and got dressed in a red onesey, my splint worn over my right trouser leg.
There was teenage dancing at the party and I recognised Runnin’ (Lose It All) by Naughty Boy feat. Beyonce and Arrow Benjamin. I’d been watching The X Factor the past 3 months with the middle son (then 12). He’d liked it, voting on his phone ‘for a laugh’. I meanwhile, still labile, had cried during all soulful numbers (especially Che Chesterman, who should have won by miles…). Runnin’ gave me the same sort of pain-tinged pleasure.
Dinner was in a marquee (the hostess was a friend of my wife’s). I sat opposite a nice guy who I knew from playing bridge. He could have been a professional but he worked instead for a Greek bank in the City. Conversation turned, surprisingly, to Kathleen Byron, muse of Michael Powell and star of Black Narcissus and The Small Back Room. In her later years, the bridge player revealed, she had lived nextdoor to his family in South London. I said she reminded me of my mother. He really couldn’t understand my enthusiasm for the actressy old lady…
When we got home, some time after 2016 had dawned, I watched Halloween with my eldest, an odd choice for transmission at New Year. And heard its music – so tinkly and sinister – which I had played on the piano pre stroke.
On 8 April that year, I moved out – and into my parents’. I wanted to go for 2 hours – ended up staying 2 years…
One problem with my 9am-2pm slot looking after the baby (or maybe an advantage, as far as my wife was concerned) was that all the baby groups happened within it. I (sort of) dreaded them. But every day we were woken up by our baby at 6am or earlier; by 9 (allegedly), my wife would be working and I’d be desperate to get out of the flat – in E Wing of the German Hospital, Bruno Court, as Hackney Council called it.
In those days, Dalston wasn’t very good on cafes; it WAS good on pubs, but the thought of them, with a baby… Besides, they weren’t open at 9am.
There were 2 baby groups, Mapledene and Sure Start at the Ann Tayler Centre; I thought the latter was better because a) you didn’t have to cross Queensbridge Road with a buggy and b) it involved a walk through London Fields. In daytime, that is. London Fields by night was still an unknown quantity. I once went to the Pub On The Park for a drink with – who did I even go for drinks with then? (Andrew Todd? Andy Sloane? Daniel Scott?) I lingered over a 2nd pint – only to find IT HAD GOT DARK! That was a problem because, when approached from the north (down Greenwood Road and left into Richmond Road), it involved a walk ACROSS THE PARK. No-one did that at nighttime, in those days…
So, back when I only had one son, I used to take him every week to the Ann Tayler Centre. I can’t for the life of me remember what we did there. (Headway reminds me of it, the East London branch. Just a place to go! If you were alright in the head, not baby braindead or just plain braindead, you wouldn’t even…) One week I just ‘forgot’ to go to Ann Tayler – too scrambled. And that was the week that Tony Blair came on an ‘impromptu’ visit! It was right in that ‘dodgy dossier’ phase and I (think I) would have asked a tricky question (or at least thought about it…). But I wasn’t there! That missed opportunity somehow finished Ann Tayler off for me. (That and residual annoyance at the misspelling, as I saw it, of Tayler. I was a part-time sub…)
A few weeks later a body was found in a suitcase IN THE GARDEN of the Ann Tayler Centre. (But apparently there’s no trace of the story on the internet. Did I make it up? Or was it too run of the mill?) The tide had now turned in favour of Essex. Before our 2nd son was born, we decided to move from the German Hospital to Mistley, lock, stock and bagel (as the New York bagel shop put it). We rented out a room in the flat to Sharron (double ‘r’), who later locked herself out, clad only in her towel. (It was a Sunday night and I had to drive up from Essex, 80 minutes, let her in again, drive back to Essex. Ffs…)
Our 2nd son was born not in Homerton but in Ipswich Hospital, at 4pm in the afternoon, very civilised. Two hours earlier we’d been in the cafe at Mistley when the contractions had started. And we were home that night. We watched Blanche Fury on tv, I remember… It rained torrentially. My wife’s sister had been in attendance and the following morning, when she drove back to Maidenhead, my elder son (at 2) asked why she wasn’t taking HER baby with her. He unconsciously wanted to remain an only child. He was disappointed, in that respect. The expressions of the brothers in the elder son’s first school photograph reveal the same thing (the younger son was 2 and he was 4): one beams – he’s got it all! The other looks resigned.
Montcalm is also a chain of UK hotels, which is odd considering it’s named after the Marquis. (Imagine if it were Magua Hotels…) He died at the Battle Of The Plains Of Abraham in 1759, 2 years after the siege of Fort William Henry, as featured in Mohicans. General Wolfe also died in the battle, making me wonder whether it’s the only battle in which both opposing generals died. (Answers on a postcard, please… The reason I know all this is a because of a project I did at Easter 1975, about The Seven Years’ War, with plenty of drawings of military uniforms.) Montcalm’s deputy Bougainville (also namechecked in Mohicans) is famous for going to Tahiti; bougainvillea is named after him – a better outcome than Montcalm Hotels, I suspect. The hotel in Chiswell Street, where I used to park for concerts at the Barbican, has conference facilities and is the site of ‘mid-cap’ events at which my old friend Laura helps out (she also loves Mohicans). In a previous life, the old Whitbread brewery, whose buildings the Montcalm now occupies, was – in the 70s – the resting place of the Overlord embroidery, commemorating D-Day, whose 75th anniversary is happening as I write this. It was supposed to be a rival to the Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery) – but now it is kept in comparative obscurity, Wikipedia tells me, at The D-Day Story, Southsea, Portsmouth. I visited in 1975, I suppose, not with my father (with whom I’d gone that year on a 30th-anniversary pilgrimage to the Normandy Beaches and cemeteries) but with my mother, who was assiduously preparing for her Take-A-Guide tourist-escort course…
While I accept that The Last Of The Mohicans (1992 version, not the inferior original in 1936, with Randolph Scott) may not be central to everyone’s experience of the world, it is to mine. As a child of 7, when another The Last Of The Mohicans was on the BBC (with Philip Madoc as Magua), I actually dreamt an overhead shot that was recreated – 21 years later – in the 1992 version.
Another example: in 1997 I visited the Edinburgh Film Festival for the premiere of my* short Magic Moments (it opened the show for Lost Highway!). The festival was being run for the first time by my friend Lizzie, whose friend Ruth was dying of cancer. It was, in short, a maelstrom of emotions. I was walking one evening at the bottom of the Mound with my old friend Matthew, a fellow enthusiast, when we heard the theme from The Last Of The Mohicans being played on massed bagpipes. We were so excited and moved that was ran up the Mound to the castle, where it was being played by a Highland regiment band as part of the Edinburgh Tattoo. And my father played the bagpipes when he did National Service in the Black Watch…
And so on…
‘…Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning -‘
After the release of Good, I got quite used to speaking publicly about ‘my’ movie. I had talk screenings of it in Norwich, Harwich and Essex University, the latter to screenwriting students. I also – somehow – got in touch with Shohini Chaudhuri, Essex’s senior lecturer in the department of literature, film and theatre studies. She was writing a book (later called Cinema Of The Dark Side: Atrocity And The Ethics Of Film Spectatorship) and she wanted to pick my brains, as a screenwriter who’d wrestled with such things. I went along to Essex Uni at dusk and with the 60s buildings it looked almost like an Antonioni movie, lit from within.
The book came out in 2014 and she emailed me to say: would I like to ask the questions at her Q&A in a lecture theatre at the university? I replied with words to the effect that I’d had a stroke and wouldn’t be able of think of any questions, let alone articulate them. She sent me a copy of the book, suitably inscribed.
My wife and I went to the Q&A on the night before I moved out; she and Shohini had done a course together, or something. The next day I moved out of the family home into an annex in the garden of a woman down the hill; the annex was in fact a converted garage.
I only saw Shohini once more, at the station while I was waiting for the minibus to take me to Headway, the brain-injury charity in Colchester. (I also went to the Ipswich Headway, bad, and Headway East London, fantastic. Headway is an umbrella term, you see.) In Colchester they’ve got good people but it’s all undone by the building, an 80s bungalow at the end of a long road thru the derelict site of Severalls, the old town mental asylum. If you weren’t depressed going there, you soon would be. It had a distant view, across an empty field, of the municipal football ground.
Shohini reverse-commuted to London, I seemed to remember; she’d got off the train and was getting a taxi to the university. I still wanted to kill myself.
I didn’t say hello.
At university I vaguely knew Matt Frei, later a Channel 4 newsreader. I saw him again in 2013 when I was on the 6th floor of Northwick Park Hospital having rehab for my stroke. I was sitting in my wheelchair, staring into space, when I saw him walk past in the corridor. In an example of what I came to know as ‘pre-stroke thinking’, I immediately thought: fancy that! Here of all places! I’ll find out what he’s doing…
And then – after a moment – I looked down and saw I was in a wheelchair. I couldn’t talk properly, either. In his job he’d met countless presidents and prime ministers, and he wouldn’t necessarily remember me – especially if I grunted. I stayed put.
He was coming to see a female colleague who was VERY angry. She couldn’t speak; she just SCREAMED. They’d put her in a room of her own with a nurse outside (whereas I was in a 4-person room). I saw her and her husband going for a walk in the corridor sometime later; he looked shellshocked, appalled – as my wife must have.
But at least I didn’t scream.
In 2000 I interviewed Patrice Chereau, a French director who’d wowed me with his film La Reine Margot (1994). As in most things, I had a secret reason for the interview: he’d also played (very well) the French commander the Marquis de Montcalm in The Last Of The Mohicans – the official GREATEST EVER historical drama, made 2 years before Margot.
Chereau was above all a theatre director; his Ring Of The Nibelung at Bayreuth in 1976 was famous. I thought: what if Michael Mann, the writer/director of Mohicans, had sat up late into the night, on set in North Carolina, and passed on the secrets of historical filmmaking? That was how I idealistically thought the movies worked, from director to director. You might say it was unlikely – but what other reason could Chereau possibly have for appearing in the movie, his only American film?
I went to the overcrowded office of Artificial Eye, the distributor of Chereau’s latest film Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train, about a funeral in Limoges (which is famous, apparently, for its enormous cemetery). He had the same wary look as in Mohicans – the result, he explained, of a trapped nerve in his back. I dutifully discussed his in-the-works film of Intimacy, based on the Hanif Kureishi novel and comprised of much f***ing courtesy of Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox. Rylance was at that moment starring in Hamlet at the Globe, to which Chereau had gone the night before. How was it? That pained expression again. ‘A very strange production.’
Finally I worked the conversation round to The Last Of The Mohicans. Before I’d even finished my sentence, he said one word: ‘Terrible!’
I was reeling as the whole edifice of the historical-drama theory came crashing down about my ears. I tried telling him how much I admired his performance, which injected a chilling note of realpolitik into a rousingly romantic epic (and one not unlike, it has to be said, La Reine Margot).
He, however, would have none of it. The only reason he agreed to be in the film at all, he said pointedly, was because ‘at the time’ he was very good friends with Mohicans’ star, Daniel Day-Lewis, whose then girlfriend was Isabelle Adjani, star of Margot. The relationship ended on famously bad terms (by fax, apparently – a period detail…). Chereau left no doubt as to where his sympathies lay.
There was only one positive aspect to the shoot, he said: ‘Isabelle was there on location and while I was waiting for my part I was in the trailer talking about Queen Margot with her. I can say I was paid to talk with Isabelle in North Carolina in a trailer in the jungle.’
He paused for dramatic effect. ‘It was funny for that.’
The Lakes was basically purgatory. You had to check in all leads to things like phones and iPods, in case you somehow hanged yourself. (It had once happened in the shower, a nice, northeastern nurse – also called John – told me. He played the guitar and wanted to do postgrad at Essex University, where my wife had just got work. He used to be in theatre, he said, with Toby Jones.) It was too much to think of going to reception (if that’s what they call it?) and waiting for them to raise the glass and glower at you as you said: can I have my lead? They had so many different ones… And I was so banjaxed with antidepressants, what would I listen to even if I had a lead?
But in purgatory there are a few bearable things. All the activities were basically no use for me: pottery needed 2 hands; a supervised walk in the woods, 2 legs. But the mindfulness course was ok – 15 minutes of listening to a tape, at 3.30 every afternoon. I’d done mindfulness before, pre stroke, trying to stop my brain overloading; now my brain had stopped altogether, so mindfulness was easy. It gave me a sort of satisfaction when everybody else, asked at the end whether it had worked, said: nah. For me it worked too well; I’d have done mindfulness till the cows came home…
But at 3.45 it was over.
There was a woman patient, about the same age as me, who always smiled at me and said: Doesn’t he look like James Blunt? The unintentional Botox-like effect of my right side freezing had a (sort of) compensation… She was always quite jolly but she was evidently pretending; she’d made umpteen suicide attempts.
A young woman cleaner from Eastern Europe used to look at me and half-smile, beneath her in-ear headphones, as she mopped the floor.
One patient with a shaved head looked alright. I wondered when he’d be going home. That’s when the problems start, he said. Neighbours! Playing music all night long… I asked him if he liked music. He said (and I always remember how specific he was): deep funk. I said: did he like Parliament? He’d never heard of them.
I could have asked about Funkadelic, but instead I ate my rice krispies.
I could either lie on my bed, walk around the courtyard (with the smokers) or watch tv. If I managed to get there alone, I’d put Film4 on – but inevitably someone would wander in and change it. My father had always liked ‘Allo ‘Allo, even in his non-dementia phase (along with M*A*S*H). I ended up watching a lot of it then, on UK Gold. I don’t know whether my father always liked ‘Allo ‘Allo or just liked it after he retired to a village in Suffolk. Herr Flick was a local celebrity and used to open the Barrel Fair on the green outside my parents’ house, complete with leather Gestapo mac. Real name (I’ve just found out): Richard Gibson.
Herr Flick! Such an 80s name…