It’s not King Lear…

I am fully aware that I have a rather pedestrian intellect and have access to no great wellsprings of creativity that lie within but, I think in common with everyone else, do like to have some creative outlets in my life. This has become even more important over the last pandemic-ridden months while proving simultaneously harder to accomplish thanks to the depletion of various forms of get-up-and-go and, indeed, focus. Despite the time on my hands, I have (disappointingly) not become a concert pianist and, if anything, my level of practice has probably declined rather than improved.

I haven’t exactly swamped GofaDM with new content either. However, on the positive side of the slate, in most weeks I have prepared, or at least continued, a new adventure in Generic Fantasy Landia which does require a degree of planning, plotting, improvisation and the creation of artwork of varying quality and styles. Last weekend, I did find myself attempting to sketch my own torso as the model for a statue and, to be honest, I had not turned turned the heating sufficiently high enough to make this entirely comfortable. Still, I like to think the result was recognisably a torso, though not really mine, though it did (intentionally) have two necks and no nipples. Later, during our time in GFL, I did find I was striking myself repeatedly over the head with a very sharp 8.25″ cook’s knife protected only by my Akubra Stockman’s hat. This was not a cry for help, or a slightly odd failed suicide, but was rather a practical demonstration of the quality of my decision making as Dungeon Master. With hindsight, I was placing a lot of (entirely justified, as it transpired) faith in the protective quality of my millinery. Both I and my hat were entirely unharmed by this practical demonstration and if Akubra wish to add its protective qualities to their advertising, I do have a GIF which they can use for a very modest fee…

I have now massively over-written six quizzes for a weekly Quiz Pub that a bunch of friends and I have been holding since the first lockdown. We have just passed quiz number 42, which I think shows a degree of commitment to a project, and an increasing number of memes have been spawned over the months. My ability with PowerPoint has also improved significantly, which may prove to be a marketable skill at some future stage in my career…

Finally, in the annals of “hasn’t he achieved a lot”, I put together a menu for a remote, Zoom-based dinner party each month with Quaranstein 10 coming up in 10 days time. Given the timing, it will have a Scottish theme…

Despite the suggestions at the start of the first lockdown, I have not written the modern King Lear – though I am far from alone in this particular failure. However, between Christmas and New Year, when I had limited paid work and, thanks to insomnia, a lot of waking hours on my hands, I penned a play! I may not be the modern Shakespeare but am, perhaps, an Ernie Wise de nos jours: my legs are not especially short or fat but they are at least decently hairy.

One of the (many) things that I have missed at the turning of the year was being able to see one (or even a few) Mummers Plays and so I decided that I would write my own. I felt this would represent tangible progress towards my intent to write my own pantomime, which has otherwise seen no movement in nearly three decades now. I felt a Mummers Play had some of the panto vibe but with the benefit of being considerably shorter and without the need for musical numbers or celebrity casting. The Mummers Play what I wrote is rooted in the tradition but does take a few liberties and is rather more overtly topical and satirical than I think is usual.

This Monday it was my turn to set the quiz, and in place of the usual Music Round (where I sight-read an unfamiliar piece of well-known music and play it on an unfamiliar or poorly practiced instrument to a combination of hilarity and horror), I decided we would hold a performance of “the play”. Everyone was forewarned of this alarming development and volunteers sought to play some of the dramatis personae. Well, as 9pm on Plough Monday arrived an unexpectedly (worryingly) large audience had assembled in the mighty Zoom Theatre and it was time for the, entirely unrehearsed (one doesn’t want to lose any of the immediacy of live performance) world premiere of my play.

The performance both went and was received far better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. The cast of strolling players were excellent, all entering into the spirit of the thing and many providing their own props and costume and even providing suitable voices. As the writer, I played three (mostly) small roles and more-or-less managed the required costume changes, though rather more slowly than would have been ideal, and I do need to work on a south Manchester accent. Even the audience had a role, as my version of a Mummers Play includes a Greek Chorus (and obeyed at least two of the three unities) and so they had a chance to join (another nod to panto). Between us, and despite a minor degree of chaos at my end, we brought my words to ridiculous, uproarious, joyous life.

So far as I can remember, this is the first time that anything I’ve written has been performed on even a virtual stage: at most, I’ve read out a short eulogy or speech I’ve prepared in advance. The combination of a group of people bringing my idiot words to life and an appreciative audience is a seriously intoxicating one. I think it is the most fun I have yet had on Zoom – and I have managed a surprisingly large amount of fun on Zoom over the last 10 months – and I stayed on a high for several hours afterwards. It did play merry hell with my sleep hygiene but was absolutely worth it! I am now seriously on the look-out for an excuse/subject for another short, somewhat comic play: though that will be the difficult sophomore play, people will now have expectations…

As the play was such a success, I thought I should publish it here – while recognising that it should (a) date quite quickly and (b) mean very little to anyone outside the UK (and probably to many within it!). Indeed, it went so well, that we are going to try and record a version for posterity (or future blackmail material).

Anyway, after not too much more than 1000 words of ado, GofaDM proudly presents the play what I wrote…

The Plague’s the Thing…

Dramatis Personae

CharacterInspiration (where relevant)
Old Father Christmas
“Prince” GeorgeBoris Johnson
The ExpertScientists
Pestilence
FamineJacob Rees Mogg
Death
The Slithy GoveMichael Gove
The DoctorDominic Cummings
The StrikerMarcus Rashford
The TurkUgur Sahin und Özlem Türeci
The CroniesA Greek Chorus of the Profiteers

Play Text

Enter Old Father Christmas...

Old Father Christmas:
In comes I, Old Father Christmas; Welcome or welcome not,
I 'ope old Father Christmas will ne’er be forgot.
'Ere but a short time to stay,
I'll show you sport and larks afore I must away.
A tale of deeds most dark that do afflict the land.
Corruption in the highest ranks soon you’ll understand.
As our players do strut and fret: behold here comes the first buffoon...
Now immorality will be exposed on this, our virtual stage, praise be to Zoom!

Enter “Prince” George...

“Prince” George
In comes I, Prince George, from England I claim to spring
Though I be a clown, with lasses I’ve had many a fling.
Children I’ve sired, ask me not to make a count.
I’m no good with detail, and don’t know the exact amount.
For naught but my own ambition will I be seen to care.
If trouble be sighted, you’ll find me in the frigidaire.!

Enter The Expert…

The Expert
In comes I, the Expert, a seeker after truth and fact
Against those that spread cant and lies will I react.
With reasoned argument I’ll share the science
A method in which all folk can place reliance.

“Prince” George
Be gone! Your expertise is not welcome in my demesne.
The sheep must accept my words, even when they sound insane.

The Expert
My honour will not allow me to quit this fray.
Do your worst; the truth must see the light of day!

The Cronies
See Prince George strap on his mighty shield of bluster
Though his sword be sharp his thrusts lack lustre.
But the Expert has no weapon but his pipette
We fear the knavish fool may slay him yet…

Prince George and the Expert fight; the Expert is killed…

Old Father Christmas
You have slain expertise, does this not your conscience prick?

“Prince” George
Ha! Not a bit! Their insistence on logic and facts made me sick!
My pie-crust promises I no longer needs defend nor discuss,
Just command them to be writ large on the sides of a bus!

Prince George exits…
Pestilence, Death and Famine enter and menace the audience….

Pestilence
In comes I, Pestilence, my fell gifts to share,
Wherever two or more are gathered, I too am there

Death
In comes I, the Reaper Grim
My harvest now I’ll gather in!
In this charnel house I’ll set up shop,
I see no-one here to make me stop.

Famine
With jobs and savings lost, the children starve
But I am famine and this makes me laugh!
So many holes in the safety net:
Loren ipsum dolor sit amet.

Prince George returns…

“Prince” George
Come to me o’ slithy Gove, cease your gyring in that wabe.

The Slithy Gove
[whispers to audience] In come I, the slithy Gove, I smarm to your face and do your lab-
ours but to slip this dagger into your back is my true desire
[to the Prince] What is your bidding, most sagacious sire?

“Prince” George
Despite my efforts, we have but horsemen three.
How might I complete the set? Fetch thee War for me!

The Slithy Gove
Gunboats to the channel I’ll now dispatch.
No European shall share our fishy catch!

The Cronies
Prince George, you kingdom is in disarray
The dead stack up like cordwood, have you naught to say?

“Prince” George
My policies have but sped them on their way,
With pre-existing conditions, they already stood in Death’s foyer.
These many dead are but of the common herd,
Their sacrifice will deliver immunity: you have my word!

The Cronies
He offers us his word, the Prince of Lies
With confused, half-cocked rulings he stupifies.

We fear for our fortunes as the economy tanks...

“Prince” George
Here, have a billion!  More will follow, no need for thanks…

Pestilence places his hand upon Prince George’s shoulder…

Suddenly, I feel mighty queer!  *cough* *cough* *cough*
I am a great Prince, or did you not hear?

Pestilence
I care not for mortal titles, your lies, your fakèd news
I shall stake my claim upon whom soe’er I choose!

“Prince” George
My cough is dry, all scents have gone.
I have no time for indisposition,
Summon now my crack physician!

The Slithy Gove
Your quack, o Prince, is purblind and in haste hies he to County Durham.
You must isolate alone, ‘til his return bearing some curative nostrum.

The Cronies
O great nation, rudderless with its shoy-hoy leader struck down:
Or perhaps ‘tis better off in the absence of the scruffy clown?

Enter the Doctor in great haste…

The Doctor
In comes I, Doctor Dom: famed for my goings and my cummings.
Be not afraid, I’ll soon return you to your Tweedledumming!

The Cronies
What can you cure, Doctor?

The Doctor
I can fix scrofula, dropsy, palsy and gout,
Galloping knob-rot I’ll soon root out!
Apoplexy, ague and gripe:
Each can I swiftly put to flight!

The Cronies
What is your fee, Doctor?

The Doctor
Ten pounds is all, praise be to the NHS our great protector.

Sorry, I had forgotten that you were a private patient
But at ten thousand pounds, for speedy service, the cost is not imprudent.

“Prince” George
OK, OK, a grateful nation will pay whate’er you will.
Just, I beg you, exercise now your skill!

The Doctor
Swallow first this pill, ‘tis but six inches across.
It kills 99% of germs, just like Domestos.
Then place these drops against your lips
Every night afore ye kips.
In a mere two weeks of this regime you’ll find
Rude good health restored and peace of mind!

If you’ll now pay my fee, I must away:
Many more opticians must I visit this day!

The Doctor exits, clutching his cash and smirking…

The Cronies
All seems lost, the country is in a parlous state.
Our millions may not save us, who’ll come to our aid?

Enter the Striker and the Turk...

The Striker
In comes I, the Striker, my skill with boots and ball has made me rich.
But I come of humble stock, when young with hunger did my belly often itch.
Come nation, unite! Throw off the chains of Mammon!
If we all pull together we can soon rout Famine!

Famine
Argh! Those with little, spend even that to feed the poor.
Even weakened Hospitality shows me the door!
I am mastered and now must flee this forum:
Infinitus est numerus stultorum!

Famine flees before the Striker and his allies…

The Turk
In comes I, the Turk, founder of Biontech
The plans of Pestilence soon I’ll wreck!

Pestilence
Not so fast, I am not finished yet! 
See, my R number rises: I am still a threat!

The Turk
We now have all we need for your defeat.
We need but time and our victory is complete!
We must follow science to complete your doom.
Then all can celebrate together, in the flesh, no need of Zoom!

The Striker and the Turk approach the fallen Expert…

Old Father Christmas
See, the death of Expertise is exaggerate.
He doth but sleep and for this time didst wait.
Rise now and take your rightful place,
We need your wisdom as to vaccinate we race!

As the Expert rises, Death and Pestilence retreat...

The Expert
As from cumbrous death I rise, I find a world transformed.
While some will always peddle lies, the people seek the well-informed!

Old Father Christmas
Remember, gentles all, that Pestilence spreads on the air,
Drafts and distance our are allies here.
If for some more months we steadfast stay,
With summer’s lease will come much freer days!

"Prince" George returns...

“Prince” George
Be gone, old fool, your hopes still languish far away
My confederacy of dunces still holds sway.
I’ve cancelled Christmas at the 11th hour;
Mendacity and incompetence will rule while I still hold power!

Old Father Christmas
Methinks I hear a final gust of wind from that buffoon
His support is melting and, like a snowman, he will join it soon!

Be of good cheer, for our tale now all is told!
Applaud our players, whose skills at acting are manifold!

Now is time to wave adieu to bright showbiz!
Now return we all to the sodding Quiz!

© MMXXI

s ∈ LME

I have, for some time, had to face the realisation that I would be considered by many to be a member of the much-maligned liberal metropolitan elite.

I am probably quite liberal – though also somewhat practical and so object to wishy-washy “thinking” – and am a firm believer that a working, if implicit, social contract is a very hard thing to create but really quite easy to damage or destroy.  As a result, in enlightened self-interest, if nothing else (and I like to believe there is “something else”), I feel that a society which mis-treats its weak, its disadvantaged and its outsiders is one storing up trouble for the future (as well as being a rather disagreeable place to live).

For the vast majority of my adult life, I have lived in or near to major centres of population – which does rather mark me as metropolitan (even without a purple line and immortalisation by Betjeman).  I’m very fond of the country, just not as a place to live.

For me the elite epithet is the hardest to claim.  Obviously, given my age and other proclivities, I did enjoy playing the space trading game on the BBC Micro back in the eighties – but that’s about as close to Elite as I feel I can realistically boast.  However, I suppose my hobbies (or how I fritter away my slack hours as I call them) which tend to revolve around the arts, science and culture might be considered to be of the elite by some.

However, I think my activities of yesterday evening may have put the tin-lid on my LME status for many.  As is not entirely uncommon, it was spent watching BBC4 – but the programming was unusual even for BBC4.  We started with a glorious hour of birdsong taken from the dawn chorus in three locations in southwest England – no voice-over, no background music just the sounds of nature (plus the occasional plane and a little traffic).  The odd caption assisted with the identification of which bird was singing – and to share a few other salient facts.  One of these other facts was that dawn singing (for the male bird) is a way of showing his fitness – an activity, were I to indulge in at this time of year, would illustrate both my insomnia (all to frequently real) and a complete disregard for my neighbours (something I try and avoid).  I would use an entirely different method to show my fitness – and would probably refrain even from doing that at dawn (well, the middle-aged body can be a trifle stiff at that time of the morning).  However, bird song was only the starter – the main course was even more nourishing.

We were fed with two half hour programmes each showing a skilled craftsman at work – again, without music or commentary.  First, a glass blower at work: showing the near miraculous creation of a jug from a chunk of glass broken off a larger rod in what seemed to be real-time.  The process was quite fascinating – and, for me at least, made glass seem even more magical.  The extraordinary plasticity of almost-molten glass coupled with its amazing cohesive properties does far more to make me believe in a creator god than the intricacies of the human eye (though does still fall a ways short).  However, I do still wonder how they get the glass to stick to the end of the metal blowing rod – I may have to re-watch the show to see if I blinked at this point.

The second showed a chap making what looked like a 9″ cook’s knife from a sheet of metal and a block of wood.  This was not in real-time as the process took 16 hours – and this was using power tools and a modern forge.  However, the time was well spent as the final product was a thing of true beauty – the blade and its patterning, in particular, was incredible.  I very much want one!

It made me realise that all craft, once it reaches a certain level, is Art.  All that labour and heat (and for the knife, violence) applied to such unprepossessing raw materials – what an astonishingly cunning species we can be!  I was also struck that without factory production of our kitchenware, it would a lot more expensive – though its cheapness and impersonal back-story might also help to explain our throw-away culture.  I start to think that I should only allow new things into the flat if they are well-made (though I’m not going the full Morris or Ruskin) – if nothing else, it would help to alleviate the storage issues created by my modest floor space as I suspect I could afford very few such things.

Most importantly, this was television which did not condescend to the viewer and could not have been done better on the radio or with a book.  None of the programmes felt like n minutes of content had been stretched to fill mn (for m≥2) minutes of schedule time.  All three programmes would have been weakened by being interrupted by messages from our sponsors.  I suspect that despite the vast cast of people who worked on the programmes, as revealed by the closing credits, this was even relatively cheap content to produce.  You wouldn’t want to spend every night this way, but perhaps more than once in 49 years could be an achievable objective for the future.