••••••    Tales    ••••••

From:    Memoirs of Mr Swing  -  life & times in
Unknown Theatre Co.

(In progress.)

Life on the road 1:

We are playing a small concert somewhere, Llew ap-Wellingore, Dean Coppice and myself, quiet acoustic chamber music. We finish, go through the rituals and start packing up. A man comes across to us, glowing with enthusiasm. "What was that music?" he asks fervently, "that music you were playing?" "Ours" says Llew, "it was our music". The man looks confused. "But that music" he demands again with renewed excitement, "that music you were playing; what was it? Who wrote it?" "We did" replies Llew, "we wrote it. It's our music". The man's face slowly changes, through disbelief, astonishment, resentment, anger. "You mean" he finally sneers with monumental contempt, "you mean... you just... made it up?!"  And with a look of utter disgust he turns on his heel and heads for the door.

It pays to be dead.

Life on the road 2:

Halfway through a residency at the ICA sometime during Thatcher's Britain, we are gathered together when the phone rings. It’s Pannonia Lorikeet from the South Bank, says an ICA person, She’s in charge of lunchtime programming at the Festival Hall, wants to talk to you about doing something over there.

The following lunchtime we troop across Hungerford bridge to meet Ms Lorikeet, who turns out to be yet another admin promoted beyond their competence and oozing nervous insecurity at every pore. She has not a notion in her head beyond whatever happened in the colour-supplements last week, and not the beginnings of an idea what her job might be for. “I’ve taken over running the lunchtime events” she gasps breathlessly, “we’ll be making changes I can tell you! No more of those Webern string quartets and elitist stuff like that! We’re going to involve the local community! We’re going to model it all on Provencal outdoors cafe life! We thought we needed something to focus it all on, and I decided we could use the game of Boule; that’ll provide an attractive centre for it all!”

Ah, I think, so the BBC’s A Year In Provence is the intellectual pinnacle here. Have you considered that London weather is not quite, well, entirely comparable to the weather in Provence? No? OK, let’s see what you’ve got for us.

She gushes on about something she is proposing we should do outside on the South Bank terraces, whilst we trail along behind. Huddling into our coats against the raw wind off the river, we progress along the grey sodden concrete walkways, up and down brutal concrete stairs, avoid those lethal gathered puddles which always form exactly where you need to walk. As we do so, we pass “the local community”, the ones who are to be enthused over Boule and ersatz Provenciality, shivering under the walkways and the stairs in piss-sodden cardboard boxes, scraps of worn-out sleeping bags, fragments of woollen blankets, too frozen and hopeless to move, even to beg as we approach. We decline Pannonia’s project and, as a special favour, omit to pitch her into the rain-soaked Thames on behalf of the “local community”.

Later, I consider whether the lot of persons domiciled in cardboard boxes could be improved by decreeing that string quartets should cease to exist. If it’s a one-for-one exchange, I think, if you could demonstrate conclusively that if I give up the one the other benefits, then OK, fine. But I think you can’t, can you? There are more things in heaven and earth than your colour-sup wots of.

Life on the road 3:

Canterbury, 1980’s. After a rather trying day we head for the hotel. It turns out to be one of those places cashing-in on the new fashion for Care-in-the-Community; the dismantling of care services and farming-out of the old and infirm for profit, which has the useful side-effect for an anti-council government of draining local-authority resources. The inmates are mostly lucratively-subsidised old people, but a few ordinary persons (today: us) must be allowed in from time to time to maintain appearances as a “hotel”. As usual with these places, things are thin and miserable; who’s going to complain? Whose complaint is going to be listened to?

The breakfast is advertised as “continental”. On the morrow, it turns out to consist of fluffy cottonwool Sunblest rolls and a couple of scrapes of industrial-grade jam, with coffee from the lower end of the English spectrum, Bazalgete’s finest. We toy with this. Llew is not feeling mollificatory. He asks the proprietor, who is ill-temperedly shunting crockery about, whether it might be possible at least to toast the rolls. Proprietor vouchsafes no answer, merely giving a snort and rolling his eyes upwards. This is not exactly assistive. Llew leans back in his chair, engages proprietor’s attention. “Look” he says, “I’ve been to the continent. I know what they have for breakfast. This is not an adequate facsimile. Continental breakfasts are made of food”.

The proprietor looks genuinely astonished. “But... I  have to eat it!” he snarls, crab-shuffling with amazing speed to the scullery before any intervention is possible.

It is not going to be a good day.

Life on the road 4:

We are on a residency at the University of East Anglia, a project with Snoo Wilson. We have been given a work room just off one of the grass quadrangles in the central buildings, across which pass a constant flow of persons.

Daisy Wrathpocket is chatting to Blasco Golmondeley and Austin Dewey when Ouija Lightbush crashes in through the door from outside, slamming it with irritation. “Bastard” she snarls. “Problem?” asks Daisy. “Student out there” grinds Ouija, “Mr Penis-on-a-Pedestal, thinks he’s God Almighty’s sexual gift to any female he wants to heckle”.

This sort of thing doesn’t go down well with Daisy, who moreover actively prides herself on it not going down well. Along with our then-admin, Gale Gambier, she once beat up Jeff Minto the poet at a party in Bradford when he humiliated some hapless ex-conquest in public (word spread and the group acquired a reputation for being, in the parlance of the time, “heavy”). Daisy goes to the window. “Which one?” she asks, “Point him out!” “Over there” growls Ouija.

Daisy, tall and imposing, wrenches open the door, strides across the grass to the cause of the problem. She comes to a stop directly facing him at a distance of, oh, several centimetres. Looking him firmly in the eye, she grabs him hard by the balls, shakes him up and down for several seconds. “Well now little chap, I don’t think much of yours!” she opines with breezy confidence. There is a spatter of applause from the distance. Others have clearly had this problem.

Life on the road 5:

Stockton, another tiring day. The hotel has been informed that we shan’t be arriving till 11.30pm;  as always our redoubtable admin, Dinah McFlackjacket, has booked us separate rooms.

We arrive as planned. The proprietor and wife have gone to bed, let us in grumpily. It turns out we must be three-to-a-room, “because we are so full”. It’s late and we’re too tired to make anything out of it. My bed is near the window, which is wide open despite frost. Disgusted, I close it, undress, collapse into bed.

Time passes. There’s something odd about the bed. Ah yes, when I feel with my hand, the sheet is damp. I investigate further. Hand under the mattress, I realise the mattress is not just damp, it is awash. Sniff. Ah yes, the whole bed is soaked in piss. That explains the open window.

Unimpressed, I make a certain amount of noise on the appropriate door to wake proprietor-and-wife, who have retreated to bed again. I show wife the bed. “Ah” she says, “it must have been those contract builders who were here yesterday”. “That’s splendid” I say, “as long as we know just whose piss it is that probably makes everything just super, don’t you think?”

Proprietor, heavy with keys, shows me into another, un-bepissed room. There are several other empty rooms where this one is. The hotel is not full.

Take this one off the list, Dinah.