Careering down the years!


Here we are again! It is over two years since I last penned an entry to these pages. Re-reading it now, it’s like a peek into another life. So much has changed in that time and there is so much more to tell.

The Constant Feline

What I am doing now overlaps only slightly with what I was up to in January 2016. The only real constant is the cat. At that time, I was welcoming our new moggy resident – Bobby – another rescue cat to whom we have given a home.

I would like to say that he is appreciative of the caring environment we have given him but . . . he’s a cat and therefore he doesn’t give a toss! It goes with the territory!!

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Look at me, ma! Top of the world!!

So affectionate when he wants to be – sleeping most nights with his head resting on my shoulder, now and again pressing his wet nose against mine. During the day, he still wants to be near me but that involves him lying on the desk, between me and the keyboard, his head on my left arm, gently snoring. Not conducive to any creative endeavours – his or mine!

Any attempt to shift him prompts a backlash, red in tooth and claw. Almost like a different cat!! It’s goodbye, pussy cat – hello, spitting fury. My hands and forearms are a living, bleeding, scarred reminder of those episodes.

Anyway, enough of that . . . he’s clearly been damaged early in his life and there’s no changing his behaviour it would seem.

Retirement? Don’t make me laugh!

In the eyes of the State, I am retired. I gave up touring my TIE (theatre in education) company, Team Players, three years ago. It horrifies me how quickly the time has passed since then.

Editor’s note: It does! Get over it!

The thousands of shows I performed in, the hundreds of schools we visited, the dozens of wonderful actors I worked with . . . have all now blurred into a memory mix of excitement, pressure and laughter.

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Early mornings – whatever the weather!

Retirement from what I laughingly called ‘work’ – and trying to replace that pressure cooker with something equivalent – has been difficult.

Blowing my own trombone

I took up jazz trombone. I had lessons, practised hard, passed Grades 1 and 2.

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Grade 2 certificate. I got a Distinction in my Grade 1 but all you need is a pulse!

I still have the odd ‘toot’ but, still not being able to read music, it was simply taking up too much time. Time that I sorely needed to ‘do other things’!

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Trying to figure out all the dots and squiggles!

Scribbles and Giggles

I concentrated then on writing silly poetry for children. I filled a book with them and self-published it. I went into primary schools and used said book as a platform for poetry workshops.

Editor’s note: This man is a butterfly!

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Scribbles and Giggles – still available in the Amazon jungle!

Writing

And writing – always the default activity! In my last post, I mentioned writing a radio play.  This was eventually read by BBC Scotland.

Their response was very positive . . .

On A HANDCART TO OBLIVION – the characters and settings are very well realised. I felt that to focus on the position of women during the wartime period was a good and clever thing to do. They are so vulnerable to the charming but unscrupulous Arthur.  

I also think it’s a great local story and a tribute to those who died.’

However, I don’t think that I would have success in getting it commissioned by Radio 4 in the current climate.

And here’s why . . .

‘One thing I should start with is that with Tommies and Home Front on Radio 4, and marking 1914-18, it’s very unlikely to get any more WW1 or WW2 plays commissioned. This is from the R4 commissioning guidelines:

The First World War is off-limits – we have Tommies & Home Front. We are not interested in commissioning ANY dramas that cover the years from 1914-18 even if they have nothing to do with battles.

None! NONE!

With so much fighting on air the Second World War is also not a priority. That’s enough war, thank you Ed.’

So it was a case of ‘close, but no cigar!’ Given their effective embargo on commissioning any new dramas involving either of the World Wars, and the fact that the BBC is the ONLY market in town – for radio drama anyway – I have no choice but to put it on a shelf! And there it will stay, probably, for at least another two or three years.

The play is a crime drama set against the backdrop of a real event – the bombing of Wilkinsons’ lemonade factory in North Shields on the night of 3rd May 1941 by a lone German bomber. (Wilkinsons was established by my paternal great-grandfather, William Arthur Wilkinson, so it’s a family story).

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Wilkinsons’ lemonade factory, North Shields – the morning after the tragedy.

One of the four bombs dropped by that single raider fell through the roof of the three-storey building and detonated, taking all of the heavy bottling machinery down into the basement, which was in use as an air raid shelter. 107 people died, 42 of them under the age of 16. Whole families were wiped out and a community was devastated. It is reported to be the biggest loss of life incident caused by a single bomb during the war, outside of London.

There is a comprehensive website relating to the incident.

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Pontificating at the commemoration event in May 2016

I had wanted the play to be broadcast around the time of the tragedy’s 75th anniversary in May 2016. It was not to be. We did, however, hold a commemoration event in North Shields. It was a moving night, with some survivors present and even the reunion of members of some of the families. Many were hearing the story for the first time.

The Novel

Determined not to make a crisis out of a drama, I resolved to turn this 45 minute radio play into a novel. It couldn’t be that be difficult, could it? Well, yes actually!

I realised quite quickly that I would require a host of new characters, sub-plots, twists and turns, before I stood any chance of creating a written work of 80k plus words from the starting point of a 45 minute radio drama.

That requires more stamina than I possess. I am a quick results merchant and prefer immediacy and spontaneity and, guess what, I spotted other things that I wanted to get involved in.

Editor’s note: Short attention span!

RIP Dad

Before I had much of a chance to explore any of them though, my dad’s health started to suffer. Shortly after mam died some five years earlier, he had slid quite swiftly and inexorably into mental decline and spent the last three years of his life in permanent care.

He passed away in August 2016 from pneumonia. For a few months before that, his mental state had been stable at least. Gone were the outbursts and ‘bad behaviour. For much of the time, he was almost oblivious of our presence. ‘Sensible’ conversations were not really possible but – and we take blessings from this – he was happy in his own skin, smiling and singing.

He is sorely missed. Apart from sadness at his passing, I now suffer from the regret that I have since heard repeated by many. ‘Why didn’t I ask my dad/mam more about . . . ?’ He has told me bits and pieces over the years but as you are growing up, shrugging off the control imposed by parents and, let’s face it, ceasing to have any interest in their lives, they went into one ear and out of the other.

Hence, I am now seeking his wartime service records from the RAF and the Parachute Regiment. He was in both but, obviously, not at the same time!!

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Dad in his RAF uniform, circa 1941. The white cap band denotes that he is in training.

It also caused me to wonder how much my children know about MY life before they came into it. So another resolution is to make notes for their ultimate benefit and education . . . while I still have the necessary power of recall myself! Not everything will go in there, of course! Some things I will take to my grave!

The Journalist

I have always had an enquiring mind and am always desperate to dig beneath what I read. This can be obsessive, so the thought came that I might be good at journalism. (And I also liked the idea of wearing a black trilby with a ‘PRESS’ ticket stuck in the band!)

I took a Professional Freelance Journalism course, offered by the British College of Journalism. It involved twelve assignments – each one very different and with varied subject matter – and my tutor gave me feedback on each one. Distance learning obviously – all done by email.

I was really pleased with the feedback I got on all of the assignments apart, that is, from the last one. I had to rewrite and re-submit it. Too wordy – exceeding the stipulated word limit. (You probably won’t be surprised to hear that!)

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Tada!!

The course took me six months and I  found it very valuable. It taught me a lot – short words, short paragraphs, no big blocks of text, be active not passive, verbs better than nouns, no waffle etc etc. It has also made me realise that a lot of what we read in the Press today is lazy, sloppy, repetitive and badly expressed!

I have been researching many and varied topics. Nostalgia football ie crucial matches from 20 to 50 years ago (some of which I was at and still have the programmes!); non-league ie real, football (more of that later!); WW2 and WW1 stories. And anything else that sparks my interest. I am freelance so don’t have to follow the edict of an editor. I do, though, have to pitch, ie sell, before I earn anything.

I have about a dozen stories that I have started work on and they sit staring at me every day. I have one real ‘star’ that I must get out there in one form or another. I think it could make a screenplay but, again, it may come up against the perception that there is a public saturation point with ‘war stories’. No spoilers as I am jealously guarding it until I decide what my next move is!!

To date, I have had only one story published but that is more due to not getting my ducks in a row in certain pieces before I can pitch, rather than any rejection.

Editor’s note: Ducks in a row? Explain!

Street Theatre

And, in the midst of all this, the street theatre act that I am 50% of – Jean & Morag, Tea Ladies – is going from strength to strength. We are in our eighth year now and generally get a fair smattering of bookings across the ‘season’, from April to September, with a few over the Christmas period. This year, however, has started with a bang. We have already spent nine days working in Hull, last year’s City of Culture.

It has taken us by surprise but Hull is a quirky city with lots to see, and they seem to like us there. I suspect we may be back before too long. And then there will be the annual visits to Liverpool, Morecambe, South Shields and several more.

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Cavorting in Morecambe!

If we knew what the attraction of the act was, we would just bottle it and make a fortune! So many things take me by surprise these days that my eyebrows are permanently in a raised position!2017 flierPut simply, we make people smile, laugh and forget their worries. We are purveyors of fun and happiness! It’s craic and banter. A laugh and a tune, with the odd macaroon!

Editor’s note: Certifiably insane!

Live Interpretation

I am a firm believer that people come into your life at certain times, to take you to pastures new. One such person was Chris Cade, whom I met when Jean and Morag were strutting their stuff at Kirkleatham Hall in Redcar at a Victorian Christmas event. Chris was doing his iconic Scrooge and we got to chat to him in our rest breaks.

He told me all about Live Interpretation and Museum Theatre. That is to say, becoming a character at a museum to bring to life a certain aspect of what is on offer there. To stay in character and open up the audience to the world that is on display around them. It turns the static into active.

Chris has been doing it for years – with his characters going back centuries.

What he does is all about getting rid of the ‘fourth wall’ – that invisible barrier between actor and audience that is the staple of staged theatre. I have not worked with this ‘fourth wall’ for about two decades now so I am more than comfortable with its absence. I relish the inclusion of the audience in what I am portraying and their interaction with it. It’s what I did in 15 years of touring schools with Team Players and it’s what we do on the street with Jean and Morag.

It’s exciting and rewarding so I want to be a part of it! I have joined IMTAL – Europe, the international museum theatre alliance. I am looking forward to being involved in what they do and, to be honest, getting work under their auspices.

And, while I’m on the honesty kick, I am busy creating a website which encompasses all that I do. There will be link to this blog so I thought I had better get it up to date!! Next stop, the Jean & Morag blog!

Editor’s note: Give me a break!

The Story of George Cade

With my journalist hat on (a trilby, obviously!), I was delighted to find that Chris had a ‘story’ of his own. His dad, George Cade of Hull, was a follower of the Youth Peace movement and attended the Second World Youth Peace Congress in New York in August 1938. This was just a matter of weeks before Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich waving  his ‘piece of paper’, reporting that there would be ‘peace in our time’.

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George Cade shortly after his call-up in July 1940

That peace was soon to be shattered. Such was the tyranny that Britain and the world were facing in Hitler though, that George – and many of his fellow members of the peace movement – accepted his call-up papers in July 1940. Others became conscientious objectors. A fascinating tale of divided loyalties – country v conviction, almost! – with many interesting facets. Thank you, Chris.

And now for something completely different!

I attended my first football match at the tender age of ten. I was taken to Ayresome Park, Middlesbough. I don’t remember who the Boro were playing that day, nor the result, but I am fairly sure I will have seen the renowned Brian Clough play.

We moved from Teesside to South Shields a couple of years later and I went along with a lot of my school mates to see Sunderland play. I followed the club for a couple of decades – I even joined the London Branch of the Supporters’ Association – but at some point, I stopped watching football altogether. Too many other things stood in the way – high pressure job, family, children etc – and the changes in the game, especially after the advent of the Premier League in 1992, were not appealing.

My son twisted my arm last year to attend a few games at the Stadium of Light to see if I could rekindle any kind of interest. I didn’t. Then my attention was drawn to the revival in fortunes of non-league South Shields FC. This was the town of my birth and most of my education.

It was a fairy tale – exiled to play at Peterlee, 20 miles away, and just a few programme sales away from bankruptcy, the club’s plight was brought to the attention of Shields-born local businessman, Geoff Thompson. He rescued them and was able to return the club to Mariners Park in South Shields. Since then, the Mariners have secured two back to back promotions and won several trophies along the way – including the FA Vase at Wembley in May.

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Grandson Lewis, and me at Wembley – 21st May 2017.

They are currently top of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division North and only wicked misfortune will prevent them from gaining a third promotion in as many seasons.

It’s real football. I thought it would be rough, crude and devoid of talent. How wrong can you be? It is devoid though, of all the things that turned me away from football. There are no preening prima donnas who care more for their latest hairstyle and tattoos, than the result of the game or the club that they play for!

Non-league football has a genuine connection with the fans, it’s more accessible AND it’s a darned sight cheaper.

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The spoils of victory – South Shields FC’s four trophies from last season, 2016/17

Football has ‘come home’ for me. Even though it’s now a 100 mile return trip to watch a home game, I do that regularly and even travel to away games, providing street theatre or other commitments don’t get in the way!

I even broadcast match reports on local hospital radio – Radio South Tyneside. I enjoy it immensely and am already thinking seriously about securing more regular work in that field. (Or rather – next to the field, hahaha!)

Watch. This. Space.

Photographic Modelling

Oh yes, how I could forget this? I started doing photo modelling in 2006. I don’t quite know how it all came about but I have been on the books of Tyne Tees Models since then. I have not done much though for the last few years – my last shoot was on 21st December 2015. I remember the date as it was my birthday.

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Skipton’s silver Saltburn surfer!

My first shoot was as a silver surfer (literally – see pic) for a Skipton Building Society ad campaign. It was on Saltburn beach – in January. Lovely day but temperature close to freezing!

I arrived in the Team Players’ transit. They gave me a wetsuit. (I must point out at this point that I can barely swim, never mind surf. I don’t mind being ‘beside’ the sea, I just don’t want to be in it!). They told me to put it on. It was January so the surf shop – a possible location for changing – was closed!

Stupidly, I got back behind the wheel of the van to change into said wetsuit. After about 20 minutes of a) getting out of the many layers of clothing I was wearing (barring one!), b) struggling into the wetsuit and c) trying to preserve my dignity, I got out of the van.

I was then informed that I had it on the wrong way round. The zip, it seems, goes to the back! The driver of a parked taxi thought it was hilarious. He took photographs!

So I went back to the van but this time, remembering that it was empty, chose to get into the back where I could actually stand up! It was pitch black, of course, but a damned sight easier to get out of the wetsuit – and back into it – than sitting behind the wheel.

The shoot went well but the tide was out. When it came to wetting my hair to make it look more like I had just done a few rip curls or barrelled a fat pipe, or whatever, I had to run halfway to Norway before I could dip my hand down and throw some salt water on my bonce.

They gave me a surfboard but, having watched Hawaii 5-0, even I knew how to carry it!

To be honest, I thought this work had all just about dried up but the agency got in touch a few weeks ago and asked me to get some up to date shots done.

So I did, and have sent them in. I am going to follow that up with a request for more work. As my dear old mam used to say “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!” I have always found this to be true!

Editor’s note: Poser!

And finally . . . 

Congratulations and thank you for reading this far!

All of the above is part of my mission to ‘put myself out there’ – again!! By that I mean, to secure gainful employment by using what I laughingly call my ‘talents’!! I refuse to be a ‘pensioner’ in carpet slippers and crimplene trousers, tending to my flower beds in the summer and watching daytime telly when the weather is inclement!

I cannot function unless I am working. It drives me on. And I like to earn money – especially as I’m a pensioner now!

Hell will have to freeze over before I utter the words “Bring me my slippers and where’s me cocoa?”

Given the current weather conditions though . . . who knows?

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