Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 94: A view from the hill

There’s something nice about Sunday, until it gets to Sunday evening.

I have a Sunday evening watermark that runs through me, which says “mildly gloomy”; I can’t shake the feeling that there must be school tomorrow and that I still haven’t done my homework or that the weekend has been great partying and now it’s back to work in the morning. Traditionally, in my family, Sunday afternoon also used to attract the excursion to relatives who I had no inclination to want to visit, then home to contemplate my incomplete, not-yet-started homework. The promise I always made myself was that I would get up early, about 6.00am, on Monday morning and do it then. Do you think it ever got done? Do you think I became skilled in the variations on a theme of “the dog eat my homework” excuse? Do you think any one of my feeble excuses ever worked?

What do I like about Sunday? Pink Floyd had a couple of lines of lyrics in the track, ‘Time’ from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’:

“Far away, across the field, the tolling of the iron bell,
calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly-spoken magic spell”

I am not religious but I do grab bits and pieces from various faiths, denominations and beliefs at the spiritual smorgasbord of life and, when I think about it, what appeals to me about that snatch of Pink Floyd lyricism, is not the idea of incantations whispered at evensong, but the notion of something “across a field”. This idea follows on from the thinking of yesterday about the sound of a train in the distance. Whilst today it might not be a train “yonder over there”, there is something, obviously, that appeals Dorothy-like to me away from where I am, in my own version of Kansas.

I remember an animated television ad of my youth that showed a farmer or “country fellow” walking or working in a field on a high summer evening and the voice-over talked of, how on such evenings, “you could hear a dog barking in Kent”. Blowed if I can remember what the beer brand was, but I know myself well enough that I bet I tried plenty of that beer and never heard a dog barking next door, let alone in another county.

What does this all mean...sounds and sights in the distance?

The original (18th century) definition of the word “nostalgia” - a word that we define today as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past” - was “acute homesickness”, from the German word “Heimwah”. Successful playwright and novellist, Michael Frayn in his Whitbread Novel of the Year (2002), ‘Spies’, talks of “heimwah” and “fernwah” in relation to having a longing: “...a longing to be there (heimwah) or a longing to here (fernwah), even though I’m here already. Or to be both at once? Or to be neither, but in the old country of the past, that will never be reached again in either place.”

My first published writing was a short piece of prose, written at the age of eleven or twelve and printed in my school magazine, it was called “A View From The Hill’. The idea was born when I was sat atop an old, concrete air-raid shelter on Portsdown Hill, overlooking my hometown of Portsmouth. It was a bitterly brittle Sunday afternoon, cold enough to snap in two and I was up on the hill with two friends who were running about below me with a dog. From my eyrie, I could just about make out the spire of Chichester Cathedral in the east, Portsmout Harbour and the Isle of Wight to the south and the orange flare of the burn-off flame of Fawley Oil Refinery, at the River Hamble’s estuary, to the West.

To answer my quetsion that I posed just a few lines ago, I do know what this is about; it’s the pull of the old country, my ‘state of origin’. Just last night I heard of the passing, all too prematurely, of a friend, who was very influential in my life in my late teens/early adulthood, that’s the third this year. I find it hard to escape the sometimes foreboding idea that things go in threes, just as I find it hard to liberate myself from the ‘sunday evening” malaise.

Am I “heimwah” or “fernwah”? I don’t know but I think I’m due a trip home.

Day #94 Tip: Let your writing do the talking
Sometimes my writing is like a polaroid photo developing. When polaroid cameras were first marketed, they used that idea of holding the snapshot under your arm whilst the image emerged...was that to warm it up or something like that? I’m not sure, but I had a polaroid camera some years ago and it was always of interest to me to take a picture, then watch the print develop in my hands and sometimes have revealed to me what I’d actually taken a picture of, rather than what I thought I’d taken a picture of (this was in an age long before the instant gratification we have today with camera-phones and digital cameras).

When I set out on a screenplay, or any piece of writing, I always have a premise and an idea in mind of what I want to express in words, however, in hindsight, looking back over the piece once it’s completed, maybe with a little objectivity, the writing reveals to me what I was actually banging on about. When I look back at scripts and drafts I wrote some years ago now, I can REALLY see what I was saying or trying to say.

My best writing - I like to think - comes when I get out of the way and just open up the sluice gate for whatevever needs to flow through. If I can remove me, my physical presence (the censor), enough to stand at the side and nudge the work in this direction or that direction, not corral it; then, and only then, will my writing show me and tell me, what it is that I need to write about today.

And this, is what I needed to write about today.

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