Category Archives: House

>After the storm

>I went to Birmingham yesterday to prepare for teaching which starts in a couple of weeks. All trains were speed-limited, so it took longer than usual to get there. The journey back was even worse – longer, overcrowded and failing to reach home (P picked me up from Gerrards Cross).

Theatre closures seem to be piling up. Our local (privatised) arts centre went broke and closed a few weeks ago. Lyn Gardner writes about the Wandsworth Tory council doing the dirty on Battersea Arts Centre and Alfred Hickling writes about Leicester Haymarket and Chester’s Gateway theatres here. According to one comment on LG’s article the Northampton theatres are under threat as well. With funding cuts looming over touring, things are looking bleak again.

Plumber calling this afternoon to quote. Builders have finished.

Update: More on Battersea, Northampton and, unfortunately, Basingstoke as well here. For a more general article on theatre funding (with reference to the Brighton Gardner Centre’s closure), see here.


>P is teaching late so I watched Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog‘s take on the Raymond Gubbay story. On reflection, I may have over-emphasised the difficulties encountered in putting up the shed.

Worked on the Birmingham play. Completely uninspired so far, but there were numbers to hit so I kept ploughing on. By the end of the day (i.e. 4.30pm) I was pleased to have solved a couple of technical problems and I know how to start tomorrow’s writing.

I get down on my writing very quickly nowadays. Part of me knows that early drafts will be weak and I kind of pre-judge the work (“it feels okay now, but I know that in a couple of days it will read like sh*te, therefore it must be sh*te.”). I used to rely on those days of delusion to fuel forward momentum. But they’re not available any more, so the schedule must rule. Why can’t I start with the third draft?

Builders back tomorrow.


>A day lost… We had the builders in today to take down a lean-to and shore up the back wall. They were as cool as you like, but I’d decided the back of the house was going to fall down. It didn’t (hasn’t yet).

What did happen was lots of noise and a storm of brick dust as they cut through walls. The dust is still settling now, hours later and after a couple of laps with the Dyson and a damp cloth. I’ve got terracotta snot for goodness sake.

Today was meant to be switchover day – put the radio play to one side for a while and concentrate on starting the first full draft of the Birmingham play. It didn’t happen. Could you write in a collapsing house? Maybe I’ll format the document and write a few lines just to put down a marker.

I did, however, mark student work. And a plumber (the mole man) came round and gave us a quote for replacing the supply pipe. So perhaps a day not totally lost.

Tomorrow is the mortar-drying day (i.e. no builders), so I’ll either watch that or write a play.

>Robust generosity

>In the light of the discussion (and more) over at Fin Kennedy’s blog, I was going to write about how playwrights came together in the 90s to change the rules of engagement between theatres, funding bodies and writers. The playwrights could have concentrated on fighting each other for the diminishing number of new writing production slots, but they didn’t – they formed collectives and changed the theatrical landscape. Then I found this article by David Edgar which encapsulates most of what I wanted to say and points out that the collective impulse had started much earlier – so read that. David Eldridge’s reflection on the “and more” is also worth a read.

Playwrights may be individual artists, but there is common cause, whether it be the year on year business of re-negotiating standard contracts, collating and sharing information and research, campaigning for a broader vision, or a one off campaign to, say, shame the ACE for dropping the John Whiting Award. We don’t have to like each other’s work (or even each other), but there is common ground and it is important.

I have scared myself with the portentousness of this. Next time I will write about the shed.

Meeting about the Birmingham Rep play tomorrow.

First verbal plumbing quote in.

>Tapenade Screws

>We bought a new DVD player for £30. The old one (the ‘Tesco clockwork DVD chewer’) was fine, except that it took exception to several of our discs. This was nothing to do with region 1 or region 2 – just petulance. The new machine is much more accommodating – in the last couple of days we have watched Napoleon Dynamite and The Squid and The Whale. Both films were good nights in – I can’t see what the old player had against them. We checked our shelves and we reckon we have about 20 films to catch up on. These include Bicycle Thieves, The Seventh Seal, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, The Werner Herzog boxed set, High Hopes and many more. I bet we haven’t watched them all by next Christmas.

“You need some of those outdoor screws. You know the ones. Tapenade screws – that’s it. Not tapenade. No. It definitely begins with a ‘T’ though… Tee, Tee, Tee, Tee… Japanned Screws!” This from the same wonderful person who once confused the words rutabega and winnebago, as in “Why don’t we hire a rutabega and drive around America in it?”. It’s just a pity they’re not a Hollywood agent – “Good news, Mr Cruise, I’ve negotiated the biggest rutabega on the lot for you…”

Two out of three plumbers have been. Still waiting for the quotes to come in. Neither of those who turned up wanted to do the full job – “you need someone special for that bit”…

>Enter SL

>Lyn Gardner has another interesting piece in The Guardian Arts Blog today. She gives a qualified welcome to what she identifies as an emerging trend for comics to be cast in straight roles. Her qualification is that the final judgment must be made on acting ability rather than box office (i.e. Kevin Spacey rather than Madonna). I do think she’s right that the best of them (Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard) bring new perspectives to existing roles.

I wonder where the next batch of new energy to shake up the theatre will come from? Do I see the stars of ‘lifestyle’ TV appearing over the horizon? I must admit that I’m looking forward to Alan Titchmarsh‘s King Lear at The Barbican, but I’m less convinced by the prospect of Jamie Oliver as Titus Andronicus at The Globe (although the pie should be good). How would you cast Davina McCall? (“Into the outer darkness” is not an allowable answer.)

Turning over for the great Green Wing, we caught the last two minutes of Celebrity Big Brother last night – Leo Sayer talking to a wall and a bare arse (he wasn’t talking to a bare arse, it was another shot). Personally I hope that CBB is not catching – I can’t afford the time for another obsession. David Eldridge mounts a defence of the programme here.

The ECG and blood tests came back normal, so it looks like it is an inflamed hypochondrium. Head still muzzy and guts still gnnffty though.

Plumber due tonight…

>A Hypochondriac

>My hypochondria has flared up again. I’ve got a radio play to write and a new router (power tool rather than networking device) to play with, and all I can do is feel a bit off. I went to the doctors here for the first time and they were very good (ECG, blood tests – the works).

We were in the rapidly metamorphosing Speke for New Year – two glasses of sherry and Nick Knowles on the telly shouting at fireworks. It was nice to be with P for once though (first time in 3 years). Perhaps the sherry was off! We saw K (step-daughter) and her partner in Chester while we were up North, which was great. P spoke to her son J in China on Christmas Day via Skype videophone. I used Skype to speak to my Sister in New Zealand as well – top product.

We drove back South on New Year’s Day and found that the new shed hadn’t blown away, which made all my gale-based panicking look a bit foolish.

A plumber is supposed to be coming tonight to quote for work. I hope Hell doesn’t freeze over. UPDATE: He postponed – another warm night in The Pit of Acheron.

PS – Playwright, inspirational teacher and good friend Deborah Catesby has a new Web site under development.

>Merry Christmas, everyone – the shed is up


A man and his new outbuilding. I dedicate this shed to P, without whom…

Have a very Merry Christmas.

>A big day

>A big day for us today. P’s brother and his wife are coming to the house for a meal. They’re only the second guests we’ve had since we moved in in July. Friends and family from Up North seem to dislike the idea of travelling to London. One of our previous visitors felt bound to forcibly make the point that he always takes the latest possible train and leaves on the first one out of town when being made to visit London.

Anyway – London-based J and A are here in about three hours and the house is sparkling… Well, it’s clean. We’re even more aware of the doors off their hinges, the bare floorboards and the torn lino. I’ve just been to Sainsburies to buy some Bombay Mix and vegetable crisps. Pure class.

The Birmingham play deadline is next Monday. They want to see the structure as a series of bullet points. I looked out some notes and found that I’ve already done a lot of the work many months ago. I don’t usually return to notes, but this play is taking so long to write that I need to refresh my memory. It’s really strange to come across documents that seem to be written by someone else (even a proper writer). Simon Gray writes about his unexpectedly long term Dickens project(s) in The Guardian today.

>One last heave

>One more week of teaching and then I’m done until the end of January. Teaching is the best part of the job (at the Uni), but it is a consuming activity and it’s taken a toll this semester. I am always a nervous lecturer, but the commuting has added another level of fatigue to the process.

Yesterday was cold and fine so we got started with the outdoor work on the shed. It took all day to get the base right and cut the floor. We now have about 1.5 inches of height with 6 feet to go. Today was supposed to be wet and windy, but looking out the office window it’s a beautiful day. Unfortunately, with the short day, it’s already too late to start work (the superstructure has to be erected in one go or it will blow away apparently).

Today – preparation for tomorrow’s sessions, marking student work, radio play and structure of Birmingham play (some breakthroughs with this, but they need to be tested).