Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 87: Mr Memory Man

A freak storm blew up the English Channel one Spring night in 1974, wiping out the middle section of the West Pier, one of the two piers on Brighton’s seafront, leaving the end of the pier, with it’s theatre, marooned out at sea some half a mile from shore.

In 1974, English seaside resorts like Brighton were fast becoming ghost holiday destinations as the British tourists flocked to Spain on ‘package trips’ in their droves. The traditional seaside holiday was no longer under threat, it was on the verge of extinction. Towns that depended on the seasonal trade were plummeted into commercial ruin and local businesses suffered as a consequence: hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, fun fairs, seaside golf courses; everything from coloured sands and seaside rock to the dodgem cars and summer variety shows were closing up their shutters and making way for the new. Local fish ‘n’ chip shops made way for fast food outlets, grand old Victorian hotels became more links in the American hospitality chain groups, bingo halls turned into mortal combat games arcades and the multiplex cinema replaced the visit to the old, glittering wedding cake of a theatre at the end of the pier.

That night, in May 1974, when the famous hurricane lashed the South coast of England and tore away the section of the West Pier that connected it to the land, it was only by the grace of God that no-one suffered serious injury or lost their life. However, one man did vanish off the face of the planet never to be seen again and it’s a sad indictment against us all that his absence went unnoticed. Arthur Tremlow was a very missable man, 64 years old and one year away from retiring to his garden and drawing his pension, of no great height and yet not short, single and without children or family. Arthur went out into that storm and never came back, until he and a troupe of variety entertainers were discovered some fifteen years later, living on the end of the pier, by Green, who’s job it was to sign off on the pier’s demolition.

“So”, said Green, gesturing to his head, “it’s all in here”.

“No”, said Arthur Tremlow, the Memory Man, “that’s just facts and figures in there. It’s in here”, he said, pointing to his heart, “and in here”, his ears, “and here”, his eyes, “and even in here”, his nose; “that’s where our memories are. They’re just facts in my head, they don’t make me feel anything. Photo’s, memento’s and souvenirs are just a gateway to get us back to the memory that we carry around with us. Even this only gives you access to the past; finding us, you’re like Alice who’s slipped down the rabbit hole. Don’t try and restore the pier, it can never be what it was, what’s in there”, he said, tapping Green’s chest. “You could never make it what it was. Knock it down if you must or leave it like it is.”

”Leave it like it is?!” said Green, astonished.

“Even like it is, derelict...” said the Memory Man, “’s beautiful; just like those rivulets that run through the countryside where railway tracks used to be, or the scars of deserted holiday camps long gone; it’s not really harming anyone, certainly not as unsightly as a multistory car park or a shopping mall.”

Day #87 Tip: Squirrel your ideas away
Mr Memory Man first began life (unconsciously) as a film script idea back in the early 1960’s when, on family holidays to English seaside resorts, I would wait at the stage door of end-of-the-pier theatres with my autograph book in hand (I was determined at that age to press ahead with a career as a ventriloquist).

The script idea consciously came to life when part of the West Pier in Brighton was actually swept away, in the 1990's. Story ideas often start with a “what if” question, I’ve mentioned that here before: what if a bunch of variety entertainers, seeing the writing on the wall and the imminent demise of their careers, could stay marooned in their own little world out to sea, rather than going back to the misery that awaits them on land?

Mr Memory Man is a fanciful and whimsical idea, not my usual genre and I’ve tinkered with it over the months, sometimes leaving it alone, like I have done now, for a few years. It’s got it’s own folder on my laptop, full of quotes, scene ideas, snippets of dialogue and various treatments and synopses. I also keep a folder in my filing cabinet with press clippings. photo’s and photocopied items of research. There’s even a Mr Memory Man file on my iTunes with music that inspires me, inspires this story.....I daren’t listen to those tracks lest I get sucked back in.

I don’t know what will ever become of the idea, if anything. Maybe I’ll write it one day, perhaps it might be better as an animated piece, a stage production, a musical or even a novel, who knows? Maybe nothing will ever come of it.....because that will happen to many of the ideas that I’ve stashed away. Other ideas, however, will have their time, their day in the sun. As I write this, a screenplay which I wrote two drafts of, but which has languished in the “bottom draw” of life, has caught the eye of producers who recognise it’s potential and want to “do business”.

Blade Runner took twenty-one years to make, Shine eleven. I keep all my ideas, never discarding them. Even if they make no sense to me now or I don’t know what to do with them today, I might one day and then I’ll be glad that I had something written down rather than it being in my head somewhere or worse, lost and forotten.

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