Saturday, 30 June 2012

Closing Doors: The Life and Death of Tony Hancock

THE BEST OF THEM ALL: DIED 24th June, 1968





STRONG LANGUAGE: THIS IS A SHORT EXCERPT FROM A SCREENPLAY

“ONE BY ONE HE SHUT THE DOOR ON ALL THE PEOPLE HE KNEW, THEN
HE SHUT THE DOOR ON HIMSELF.”
SPIKE MILLIGAN ON TONY HANCOCK

This is just the first few pages of an early script about the last days of Tony Hancock  (British Comedian)
Tony went to Australia to attempt to revive his Television career but without the support of his writers and pals (all of whom he dumped), the revival failed and he took his own life at the age of 44 in the basement of his producer’s house.

This is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Hancock died by suicide, by overdose, in Sydney, on 24 June 1968. He was found dead in his Bellevue Hill apartment with an empty vodka bottle by his right hand and amphetamines by his left.
In one of his suicide notes he wrote: “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times”.

BLACK SCREEN

TITLES:
“ONE BY ONE HE SHUT THE DOOR ON ALL THE PEOPLE HE KNEW, THEN
HE SHUT THE DOOR ON HIMSELF.”
SPIKE MILLIGAN ON TONY HANCOCK

BLACK SCREEN
DIRECTOR (V.O.)
Okay Tony, can we take that line
again?

HANCOCK (V.O.)
“Oh no, I’ve got the giraffe again,
I’ve got three of these, why can’t
I get the packet with the
hippopotamus?”

Silence.

HANCOCK (V.O.) (CONT’D)
Does that sound funny to you? It
doesn’t sound funny to me.

BELL RINGS.

DIRECTOR (V.O.)
Take twenty everyone, there is some
noise on the tape.

TITLES: “June 1968, ATN-7 Studios, Sydney, Australia.”
FADE IN:

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY
TONY HANCOCK, forty four going on sixty.
Tony is walking towards his trailer. His PA hands him a cup
and his PRODUCER walks beside him.

HANCOCK
Well?

PRODUCER
What Tony?

HANCOCK
Does it sound funny? These are no
Galton and Simpson.

PRODUCER
Give them a chance.

HANCOCK
Give them a chance? Give them a
chance? Listen matey, I’m out of
chances. Me.

The producer places his hand on Hancock’s shoulder. Hancock
stops and kills the moment with a look.
The producer’s hand retreats.
Hancock continues walking but the producer stays where he is;
he knows better.
Hancock enters his trailer.
SLAM….a closing door.

INT. TRAILER – DAY
Hancock, life-tired, sits staring into an unforgiving mirror.
He opens a Qantas Airline Bag or should that be
pharmaceutical central?
Some tablets are placed on the table, a bottle of vodka is
retrieved from under the table – it’s been taped there – and
is poured into Hancock’s cup.
He swallows the lot.

KNOCK.

HANCOCK
What?

PA (O.S.)
It’s me.

HANCOCK
Wait.

The airline bag is closed and the bottle taped back under the
table.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Enter.

PA
It’s the sound men; it was a bird
they picked up on the tape.

HANCOCK
So?

PA
Well they’re trying to shoot it out
of its hiding place using a
catapult and some moth balls.

HANCOCK
You couldn’t make this stuff up and
unfortunately neither can my
writers.

PA
It’s just….

HANCOCK
…it’s just what?

The PA turns towards the door and there are some fans waiting
to talk to Hancock.

Hancock gets up and goes over to the door.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Fuck off.

He slams the door shut and then approaches the PA. Their
faces are an inch apart.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
What do you think I am? A tin of
beans.

The PA slides away and out the door.

INT. HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT
A TELEVISION is on.
The room is empty and someone is showering in the bathroom.
We will find out that this is Hancock.
On the television is an interview with Hancock and John
Freeman.

TELEVISION HANCOCK
“It’s partly true that I’m a lonely
person. There are times when you’re
desperately lonely, standing in the
wings, at say, the Palladium….”

Going around the room we see the items that reflect his life
at the moment.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)
“….You’re out there alone. To be
shot at, shouted at, booed, have
rivets thrown at you (which I’ve
had) and seven pence ha’penny
thrown at me at Bristol – which I
picked up carefully off the stage
and bought myself a half of
bitter…”

A script lying open on the bed.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)
“How do you make comedy? You don’t
make it with measured ingredients -
it’s not cake. You make comedy with
feeling…..”

The Qantas bag on the bedside table.

TELEVISION HANCOCK (CONT’D)
“What I play on television is an
extension of myself and the
idiosyncrasies of other people
combined…”

Two bottles of brandy and a bottle of vodka.

TELEVISION HANCOCK
“You are, after all involved in
life, and you do certain stupid
things yourself. So if you are
going to stand there and throw
stones, at what point of perfection
do you stand? If one is going to be
critical without any chance of
comeback, it’s like hitting a
child”.

A HAND turns off the television. It’s Hancock’s. He slumps on
the bed in a towel , pours a vodka into a glass and smiles to
himself.
He picks up the ‘phone.

HANCOCK
Get me Mrs Sennett in Bournemouth,
England. (Pause) That’s right, my
Mum.

While he waits, he picks up a couple of tablets from the
bedside table.
He washes them down with vodka.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Mum. Guess who?

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY
PEOPLE doing things. Carrying cables, scenery. People
painting.
The PA exits from Hancock’s trailer.

PRODUCER
How is he?

The PA crosses his fingers and moves on.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)
Come on now people. We have a show
to put on.

The producer spots some of the team, watching.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)
I thought it was your day off?

STAGE HAND
Tony Hancock is in town.

PRODUCER
Hope he’s worth it.

The producer claps his hands.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)
Move. Someone get Tony. You.

A YOUNG GIRL is selected.
She nervously goes over to the trailer and knocks the door.
There is no response. She knocks again.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)
Just leave it. I’ll get him.

The girl runs off.
The producer loudly knocks the trailer door.

PRODUCER (CONT’D)
(shouting)
Coming in.

INT. TRAILER – DAY
The producer enters.
Tony is somewhere between Sydney and the moon.

PRODUCER
For fuck sake, what did you take?

HANCOCK
(slurred)
You know….what Sid said about me?
He said….what was I talking
about? Oh yes, Sid. He said….that
I have the best timing in the
business. The best.

Hancock is not in charge of moving his head; it has its own
life.

INT. TV STUDIO – DAY
There are many EXPECTANT FACES as Hancock and the producer
emerge. However this turns to disappointment as the producer
supports Hancock from the trailer. He carries him to the set.

PRODUCER
Come on people. We have episode six
to put in the can.

The enthusiasm has eroded in the studio, everyone is going
through the motions.

STUDIO LATER
Hancock stands ready, however his face shows that although
the light may be on, nobody is home.

DIRECTOR
All you have to do is pick up the
‘phone.

Hancock nods like a drunk.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)
And action.

Hancock lifts the receiver, dials very badly then ‘speaks in
tongues’ into the phone.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)
Cut. That’s the sixteenth take and
that bastard is incapable of saying
a line.

Hancock stands lost and sweating from head to foot.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)
Hancock, you c*nt. Get out there
and act.

Hancock is in turmoil. He is practising ‘Chinese burns’ on
his wrists.

DIRECTOR (CONT’D)
(to producer)
Are you going to fucking call
someone?

The producer nods. A PA hands him a phone.

PRODUCER
(into phone)
Get me the Managing Director.

INT. HOTEL ROOM – DAY
This is another time and another place. Hancock is shaved,
dressed and sober.
He sits reading the paper and drinking coffee.
A KNOCK at the door.

HANCOCK
(with gusto)
Enter.

The producer enters.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Coffee?

PRODUCER
Please.

The producer sits as he pours him a cup.

HANCOCK
So, did you see yesterday’s rushes?

PRODUCER
Ehm…no, not yet.

HANCOCK
Well, we can look at them today.
I thought yesterday went well.

These two guys are remembering different days.

PRODUCER
If you say so.

HANCOCK
Of course, I say so.

Hancock gets up.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Well, come on. Let’s get a move on.
Hancock is already out the door.

HANCOCK (O.S.) (CONT’D)
Come on.

INT. CAR – DAY
The producer looks at Hancock, not sure who is riding in his
car.
Hancock is happy and smoking.

HANCOCK
I’ve got to get me Mum something.

Silence.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
I hear the contract is for 26
shows. I was thinking I might do it
in three batches and head home. See
Mum and Joan. What do you think?
Silence.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Have I upset you?

PRODUCER
No. The Managing Director wants to
speak to you when we get in.

HANCOCK
Any idea, about what?

The producer looks at Hancock. Then shakes his head.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
Can’t be too serious then.

There is a look on Hancock’s face as if he may know what the
talk is about.

HANCOCK (CONT’D)
We could always take the whole
thing back to England.

PRODUCER
If you don’t do it here, it’s all
over. If you fuck up in Australia,
there’s no where else to go.

The car pulls into the studio gate.

INT. PRODUCER’S HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT
The producer sits going through some paper work.

The phone RINGS.

PRODUCER
Hello.

HANCOCK (V.O.)
Evening.

PRODUCER
Tony.

HANCOCK (V.O.)
I’ve decided. I’m going to take the
cure.

PRODUCER
Where are you?

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT
Hancock sits in a hospital gown.

HANCOCK
Cavell House Private Hospital at
Rose Bay. That bastard said it was
this or the first bloody ‘plane
back to Blighty

...........to be continued

Monday, 25 June 2012

Shoreham Rose, again by Bobby Stevenson


                                            


Perhaps I should start way back at the beginning.

The first time I laid eyes on Sally – Ludlow as she was called then – she had a permanent band aid on a pair of National Health spectacles. She was nothing special, at least not to me, she was just one of those children who run through the streets of Shoreham on any given sunny evening. Kent, back then, was a different place than it is today. It was a gentler, kinder time and in the years after the war, there was still rationing but with that came a feeling that we had to look after one and other.

Sally and her family lived on the High Street and we lived on a small farm on the back road. On those summer evenings the kids used to meet up by the Cross on the hill. The Cross had been cut out of the chalk hills in the years after the Great War to remember those who had given their lives and by a strange irony it had to be covered up during World War 2 as the enemy bombers used it as a landmark.

That night, the night it happened – we both must have been about fifteen back then – I was sitting on the hill overlooking the village and I knew that when the lantern came on outside the Rising Sun pub, it was time for me to head over the hill and back to the farm.




I loved this view and even on a warm evening there would still be smoke rising from the chimneys and leaving a ghostly drift across the valley.The smell of the grass and the fields and the fires was like nowhere else on earth.
“Is it okay, if I sit?”
And there she was, Sally standing over me as she pushed those spectacles back up her nose, they always seemed to be trying to escape her face.
“Well?”
“Sure” I said to the funny little girl wearing the funny little glasses.
“I always see you sitting up here from my bedroom window.”
“It’s the best place in the world to sit”, I said.
“My father doesn’t like me watching you.”
“Why?” I knew I was going to regret asking this.
“He says you’re a weird one, always on your own.”
“And you, what do you think?” I asked.
“Oh I don’t think you’re weird, I love you.”


And that was that. That was the night, the first time ever, a person, other than my grandmother, told me that they loved me.

The rest of the summer we were inseparable and even her father got to like me. When I wasn’t working on our farm, I was over at Sally’s and some days she would come and help at our place.
The night before we were due to go back to school, she made a small ring from the grass on the hill and asked me to propose to her.
“Sally Ludlow will you marry me?”
She said ‘yes’.
“And you can’t ever get out of it, James. Till death us do part.”

So at fifteen years of age Sally and me were engaged to be married. Sally said we should start saving right away so that way we could have a big wedding and invite all the family. She reckoned we’d be really old by the time we could afford it.
“Maybe nineteen or twenty.” That seemed such a long way away.






Every penny I earned went into our secret wedding box and it lay side by side with Sally’s contributions. Of course we were going to get married in St. Peter and St.Paul’s, the local church.
Then Sally moved to High Wycombe, it seemed her grandmother was poorly and her family wanted to live with her.
“It’ll only be a few weeks”, she said.
But it wasn’t, it was almost a year. I met Sally in London on two occasions but as we were saving our money, we decided to write to each other instead.
To start with we wrote every day but eventually it was one small note, once a week. I almost gave up and thought she was never coming back.

Then I got called up for National Service and I was shipped out to Aden. Before I left, I heard that Sally’s father was coming back to Shoreham to work in the butcher shop at the corner of Crown Road and that Sally and her mother would follow on.

Her father rented a room above the butcher's while he waited on his family but since his mother-in-law was in a state of decline, his wife and daughter stayed on in High Wycombe.



I came back home twice but there wasn’t any time to travel to see Sally as I was needed on the farm.
By the time that Sally and me were in Shoreham she turned up accompanied by her boyfriend, Andrew. Apparently he was studying to be a doctor and his family were something in High Wycombe, least ways that’s what her mother told me. I don't think she meant anything by it.

Sally and her parents moved temporarily into the Station Master’s house at Shoreham as the wife of the house and Sally’s mother were the best of friends.Every time I called at the station I was told that Sally was out but I’m sure I saw the curtains twitch in a room upstairs. I wrote to her a couple of times but never got any reply.

That year my family decided to send me off to Agricultural college in deepest Sussex and this allowed me to return from time to time to work on the farm. I had a few girlfriends while I was studying but none of them was ever Sally, she was always on my thoughts one way or another. Then one day I ran into Sally’s mother who told me that her daughter had married and moved to High Wycombe.

That’s one of those moments in your life when you feel as if everything inside you has been ripped out and yet you still manage to function – I continued to speak to her mother without missing a beat.

I threw myself into working on the farm and from time to time I got involved in the Village Players: a drama group which helped me take my mind off of Sally.

Once a week I would meet up with pals in The Royal Oak, the best of all pubs in Shoreham and really that was my life for the next ten years. 

It was at a wedding in the new golf club that our paths crossed again. Sally hadn’t aged in all those years, she was still as beautiful as ever but there was a sadness on her face.
“Hi” was all she said and how long had I waited on that?
She had nursed her husband for the last three years and he’d died just before Christmas. This was a grown up Sally I was talking to. She was only back for a weekend to remind herself how beautiful Shoreham was as a village. She had begun to think she'd only dreamt the place up.
I told her that the next time she was in the village she could stay on our farm. She said thanks, and told me she’d think about it but she had to get back to her family. She had an eight year old daughter and a five year old son and she had to work out what her future was going to hold.

Then the following summer she came for a weekend with the kids to stay on the farm and that was the happiest I had been in years. She too, looked less sad.

What can I tell you?

We married the following the year and we set up house in one of the farm cottages.
We had one further child between us, Simon and the five of us had the best of times. Sure we struggled but I was with Sally and my family and anything was possible.

The older boy, James and the girl, Sue moved into London and both had families of their own. Simon settled down and took over the farm, letting me and Sally travel for the first time. We even drove across the States.
Sally left me in her 65th year – she had been ill for several months and her leaving took my heart. Sure the kids and the grandchildren visited the farm but once again I spent my days missing Sally.

When I felt strong enough to clear out her clothes, I found a small box in the back of the wardrobe and in it was the small ring made from grass. She’d kept it all those years.

When the time comes I’m going to be buried in the church next to Sally.

It’ll just be me and her again.







SHOREHAM ROSE, THE SONG:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QnHQsV9-IU

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Auntie Gertie's Lost Shoreham Diary by Bobby Stevenson


To be honest I’d never actually heard of Gertrude Swansway. She was one of those ‘larger-than-life’ characters and to the locals in Shoreham at the end of the 19th century, she was simply known as ‘Aunt Gertie’.

When ever you needed anything organised, arranged or distributed, Aunt Gertie was your lady. The reason that so much is remembered about her life is the fact that she left so many diaries.

However there had always been one journal missing, that of the year 1901. This question was answered when the diary turned up several weeks ago under the floorboards of one of the large houses down by the river, currently being renovated. In Gertrude’s journal of 1901 was recorded the funeral of Queen Victoria and the opening of the new Co-operative shop on Shoreham High Street. So why did she hide the journal?

Contained within the pages were scribblings to suggest that Aunt Gertie had been a paramour of the new King of England.

We’ll leave those stories for another time and get to the part that is pertinent to this evening. 2009 is the 85th anniversary of the Shoreham Village Players, although this wasn’t the first drama society formed in the village – in her journal, Aunt Gertie discussed how she, along with Minty Minton and Shasha Dogoody in July 1901 formed the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours.

 Minty had mentioned at their inaugural meeting that  “Something should be done to cheer the ballyhoo village up” “Weren’t we now in the modern age, the Edwardian age” at which point Aunt Gertie blushed. “I suggest we put on a ballyhoo show” said Minty. Shasha Dogoody said “As long it does not involve that dwedfull Oscar Wilde”. Minty felt that that was rather a shame but Aunt Gertie insisted we should not mention that horrible man’s name again. Then Minty came up with a corker – “why don’t we put on Three Men In A Boat?” Shasha Dogoody said “You mean dat rawwer spiffing little story by Jerome K Jerome?” “Exactimondo”, said Minty and “I know the very ballyhoo place to stage it”.

And that, dear friends, is why the first ever recorded drama production in Shoreham was actually held on the river.

Minty had taken charge from the word go. “I see myself as J, said Minty, “you Gertie can be George and Sasha shall be Harris. Mrs Trafalgar’s pooch can play Montmorency. So it’s all settled”….and apparently it was. 

“I see the whole thing taking place upon a little boat in the middle of the Darent river” said Minty getting ever so excited. ”We shall tie the boat to the bridge and the audience will bring hampers and sit by the river”. Gertie was to write the ballyhoo play and Sasha could stitch together some marvellous costumes.

The rehearsals went ever so well, although Minty suggested holding them after dark “to maintain secrecy”. Therefore there was many an inhabitant of the village that made their way home from the nearby hostelry believing that they could hear supernatural voices. One such man, Ebaneezer Twislewaite was so frightened by the experience that he took an oath never to drink again – at least until the day he got hit by a runaway horse and sadly expired.

As far as the three of them could judge - in the dark, that is - the rehearsals had gone exceedingly well.

Then came the big day, ”the grande journee” said Minty in his rather over excited manner. Many of the great and good were sitting in anticipation on either banks of the river. Hampers were opened and oodles of food consumed.

However dear friends, I have to mention at this juncture - that the evening prior, when the three were having their dress rehearsal in the dark – it had rained very heavy, very heavy indeed.

To say that the river was torrential on the day of the performance was to rather underestimate it. 
It was just as Aunt Gertie was shouting (very deep voice) “Montmorency, Montmorency where are you?” that the tiny boat began to slip it’s mooring – that is to say, from being tied to the bridge. No one noticed at first and as the boat edged down the river a little, the picnickers just moved their derrières a few inches further along the bank. 

However when the boat finally did break loose , it was actually very noticeable since Sasha Dogoody somehow managed to remain tied to the bridge and went flying off the back of the boat - just as Aunt Gertie and Minty started on a rather fateful voyage down stream.    

The last they heard of Sasha was as she shouted “be bwave fellow thespians, be bwave”.

Minty shouted to Gertie “.. I do believe that you should also play the part of Harris, Gertie”
(Deep voice) “Why should I?” “Because I don’t know the ballyhoo part, that’s why” screamed a panicky Minty. 

It was also obvious to those ashore that the audience had now broken into a trot, and then a run, attempting to follow the boat down stream.

“Gertrude, please speak up and please try to make the voices of George sound different from that of Harris”

Aunt Gertie got ever so cross and warned Minty (deep voice) “I may be a lady but one more derogatory word about my acting and by God I’ll give you a sound thrashing within an inch of your life”.

Monty had never heard Auntie Gertie talk like that and to say Monty was stunned was an understatement – that is, until he was actually stunned when the boat hit the second bridge. Unfortunately Monty was standing and took the full force, endng up face down in the river. Aunt Gertie had fallen backwards on to the deck and so avoided hitting any large objects.

Nothing could cool Gertie’s temper however, and when Police Constable Wikenshaw of Otford constabulary tried to help her to her feet – his face appeared to stop Aunt Gertie’s fist.

That evening Minty was taken to a hospital in Bromley, Aunt Gertie cooled her heels in Sevenoaks’ gaol and everyone forgot about Sasha Dogoody who literally hung about the bridge for several hours afterwards.

The following week, the Shoreham Strolling Troubadours wasofficially closed down by a vote of 3 votes to nil. 

Minty suggested they never speak of it again.

And that dear friends is the real beginning to the Shoreham Village Players.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Last Posts (1) by Bobby Stevenson


December, 15th.

My dearest darling Helen,

I just wanted to remind you of how much I truly love you.  As I write this my love, I am sitting in an old hut waiting on the fog and weather to lift. Did I tell you my pilot was born in Scotland but went to the States when he was a kid? I’ll introduce you to him, next time we are home.

I have told the band that I will be in Paris tonight and that they will follow on in the morning. They all deserve some time off, no matter how brief.

As each night passes I miss all of you more and more, please hug Steven and Jonnie for me and tell them that Daddy loves them.

I have just had a meal at the club with David and as usual his stories of Hollywood and the life of a movie star can keep me entertained for hours. I have promised Mister D. Niven that we will all have a vacation together the minute I am back. I promise.

Have I told you how much I love you?

I was going to post this in England but as there is no one else here I will keep it and post it in Paris in the morning. That I promise, too.
See you soon, my love,
G .xxx


Major Glenn Millar
AAC Orchestra.
Glenn Miller disappeared over the English Channel, December 15th 1944

L.o.v.e.a.n.d.h.o.p.e. by Bobby Stevenson



Holding
Onto
Positive
Expectations
And
Never
Doubting
Love
Overcomes
Virtually
Everything

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Great Chaos of Shor**** (2012) by Bobby Stevenson





That summer, that glorious glorious summer, sat on the shoulder hills of the little village and warmed the hearts of its inhabitants. 

The heat had slowed everything and everyone down to a more comfortable life, more in tune with that of the eighteenth century than today’s horrors. This suited perfectly Miss Sligerhorn, the village spinster – a role, by the way, that she had been born to play. No harsh word would leave her mouth regarding the heat wave, not for her the fast and furious lifestyles of some of her more racy neighbours; no, Miss Sligerhorn was definitely in her comfort zone. 

Each morning at precisely 5.52am the Colonel, a strange fruit indeed, would cross Miss Sligerhorn’s path and they would greet each other in a polite and courteous manner. Yet an outsider would probably sense an underlying hostility to the proceedings. There had been talk, and I emphasise that it was only talk, that Miss Sligerhorn had been left at the altar by the Colonel; a most distressing state of affairs.

Every day, pleasantries met, exchanged and forgotten, Miss Sligerhorn would continue on her way to the cake shop which she had inherited from her mother. A mother who deserves a story unto herself but we will put that excitement aside for another time when the days are shorter and we can rest by a large fire.

Miss Sligerhorn was the gentlest of all creatures and considered most men to be brutes. The Colonel, on the other hand, was a brute and considered most women to be useless. 

They lived in the little village of Wetherby-by-Soot which had one pub, where the men would congregate and quaff ales, and Miss Sligerhorn’s cake shop, where the women would meet to discuss in great detail the men that they had unfortunately married. All of them had entered matrimony with careless haste and all of them were now regretting their actions at leisure. This had been the way of things since the dawn of time but things, as we shall see, were about to change. 

In London Town life was increasingly fraught and was made all the worse by the heightened temperatures. It would be a truth to say that living and working in the city was far from a pleasant experience.
Especially for the great and good who ran the country. 

For several years now there had been an increasing criticism of the politicians who controlled the purse strings, who made the laws and fiddled the expenses. Greed was the order of the day and such were the financial cutbacks that if one were to be a politician nowadays it would have to be for the love of the job rather than the benefits.  

In the current dog days love was a very rare thing, a very rare thing indeed. So one bright Friday afternoon the Prime Minster and the rest of the blameless walked out of Parliament and closed the store, as they say. They shut up shop and refused to return until the people of the land came to their senses and saw what a spectacular job they all had been doing - which was never going to happen, if we’re being honest. 

So there we have the situation, a Mexican standoff where neither party is going to back down causing the world around them to begin sinking into the mire.
Some of the local authorities attempted to collect rubbish, clean the streets and keep the services rattling on even as the money ran out.
“Look chaps, we’re looking for volunteers this weekend to clean the sewerage system. So if you could raise your hands to show interest that would be truly marvellous; what, no one, no one at all?”

So not only did the heat wave cause the country to revert to eighteenth century travel, the simmering politics caused the villages and towns to close in on themselves and each little hamlet became judge, jury and council for all of its inhabitants. 

Wetherby-by-Soot was no exception but I guess you knew that. If it had been possible to build a castle keep around this village then they would have done so, but time and money constraints put paid to that idea.
The good folks of Wetherby didn’t want the scoundrels from Axton-under-Soot, the neighbouring village, to come looking for those things that were in short supply in Axton. This was a time for fortitude, for kindness, for mercy, for every village looking after itself and to hang with the rest. 

Wetherby-by-Soot had two streets: Church Street and High Street. They were laid out in a letter ‘T’, meaning there were three entrances to and from the little haven that had to be manned and guarded. The fact that anyone could freely drive through the lanes that criss-crossed the fields did not appear to come into the equation. Defence was more a matter of visibility than practicality, it was a Maginot line populated by Miss Marples and Colonel Blimps.

The kids of the village ignored the gates as if they didn’t exist and when the ‘Gate Controller’ (the Colonel’s idea) asked ‘Who goes there?’ – the kids would just stare at the questioner, utter ‘like, whatever’ and walk on.  

This whole indiscipline issue was beginning to annoy the Colonel, so much so, that he’d teamed up with Roger Hartness – agreed by all, to be the angriest man in the village. Roger was known to shout at cats that’d peed anywhere other than their own gardens. He had photographs in his study of which animals belonged to which property. Roger was married which came as a shock to most people when they first found out. His wife, Tina, was the gentlest soul in the universe, perhaps she had to be – two angry people in the one house would have been difficult to maintain. 

“Curfew!” that was Roger’s summation of the problem. “The oldies are always in bed relatively early, so the only folks to be upset with the curfew would be the youngsters. I propose a village wide curfew of say, 9pm.”

To enforce the curfew Roger and 'friends' would patrol the streets after that time and ‘encourage’ the stragglers to get home as quickly as possible. Naturally there would be shift workers, but as long as they registered with Ground Control (Roger’s idea that one) things would go smoothly or ‘tickety boo’ as Roger liked to say. 

Now this is where things get a little sticky – the Colonel, Roger and 'friends’ controlled the south gate, at the bottom of Church Street. Miss Sligerhorn and her posse controlled the High Street and the two exits involved with that road. Since the Colonel suggested a curfew and patrol then you can bet your sweet bippies that Miss Sligerhorn went out of her way to avoid such an action. 

There was a de-militarized zone at the junction of the High Street and Church Street which had to be crossed frequently by the drinkers of the former due to the fact that the Pub was in Church Street and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Colonel.The cake shop and tea rooms, on the other hand, sat on the High Street and were under the patronage of Team Sligerhorn. 

A meeting had to be set up between the parties and the Village Hall was proposed. However it was found to be situated too deep into the Sligerhorn camp to be considered a neutral venue.
Outside the village, and on the main city road, stood a burger van which sold coffee, burgers and onions with fries at very reasonable prices (their slogan). So this was to be the setting for the summit. 

Miss Sligerhorn and her followers turned up first and were heard to say ‘typical’ quite a few times under their breaths, even although they had just passed through the Colonel’s territory and saw that his team were still in the stages of getting ready. Thirty minutes later and all in red berets, the Colonel’s Church Street gang arrived.
Miss Sligerhorn had done much ‘tutting’ over the last half hour not just because of the lateness of the other lot but also because of the prices the burger van man was charging. 

“We’re in the middle of the Great Chaos or hadn’t you heard Miss Prim and Proper” said the burger van owner with a hint of disgust.
“And that means you can charge what you like, does it?” asked an angry Miss Sligerhorn, who turned away from the van without waiting for an answer. 

It didn’t stop the burger van man shouting after her “I’ve got overheads to consider. I’ve got to go and collect the burgers me self, thanks for asking” but she wasn’t asking, she was already drinking tea from a flask she had brought herself. She then turned to Irene, her Lieutenant, and issued a statement “Irene, fifteen pence on all our buns. Make a note of it, if you please.” Irene scribbled the message with a large butcher’s pencil and her tongue hanging out.
“Fifteen pence on buns” said a self-satisfied Irene as she hit the note book with the lead end of her big pencil.
“And twenty pence on fondant fancies” shouted Miss Sligerhorn causing Irene to bring out her large butcher’s pencil and tongue once again.  

When the meeting began Miss Sligerhorn was the first to speak “We are not at war, Colonel” she said, suddenly realising there was a double meaning to her statement.
“Agreed”
“So why the need for a curfew?” asked the lady who he may have jilted at the marriage altar (or not).    
“Because we are in the midst of the Great Chaos” shouted the burger van owner who had obviously heard that phrase from one of the more down market newspapers. 

The Colonel stood up to show off his very impressive 6 foot 4 inches of height and demanded a hush from the throng.
“Dear, dear lady I am not the power hungry mad man that your people are putting about the cake shop, I am just a concerned citizen that worries about the youth of this nation, the youth of this country - after all these people are our future, our investment, as it were” and the Colonel started to hit his palm with his fist as if this was the culmination of a lifetime of struggle, until someone shouted “Sit down you old fart, you’re ruining my business” and as you may have guessed, it was the burger van man. 

A vote was eventually taken and the Colonel’s people voted, not surprisingly, for a curfew and all the Sligerhorn gang voted against a curfew. Someone mentioned that the Sligerhorn part of the village was in the more posh area and that votes should count double over there but that lady was told to take a walk, by someone from the Colonel’s team who also said they would punch her on the nose if she didn’t shut up this minute. 

So nothing was decided that day and the village grew, sadly, a little further apart as a result. 

On the Church Street side were the village tennis courts, available for hire at subsidised rates. They were now no longer in use, that is, until the Colonel came up with an idea. 

The courts had a wire mesh surrounding them up to a good height of 12 feet, this allowed the balls to avoid hitting the nice people of Wetherby-by-Soot. The fence would be hard to scale and that is why the by the following morning most of the curfew breakers who attempted to enter the village by the Church Street entrance were now being held prisoner in the tennis courts. 

“We’ll hold them until they’ve learnt their lesson” decreed the Colonel. Standing at each corner on step ladders were men holding buckets full of tennis balls. If any of the curfew breakers had dared to move, one of the men would throw a tennis ball to deter them. However being British and in charge of a tennis ball meant that not one curfew breaker ever got hit; a very sad but true fact. 

The Colonel had attempted to curtail visiting times to deprive the youngsters of family support but it had a limited effect as the families just sat on the hill above the courts throwing chocolate bars and packets of crisps in to the ‘prison’. 

By Saturday the whole of the youth of the village, including those that lived in High Street had been imprisoned. If we are really being honest most of the parents were enjoying the break. They knew where their kids were, that they were being looked after and couldn’t get into trouble. 

“Let the Colonel sort them out. See how he likes it” was the common response and to be honest the Colonel was at his wit’s end. 

He had attempted to keep the kids entertained by playing something called a ‘record player’ and music by people called ‘The Beatles’ – but none of the kids seemed that interested until he threatened to take away their phones and music players if they didn’t listen. 

A child without a phone is a child ready to start a revolution.
The Colonel sent in his men with berets to take away the kid’s phones and pods. Apparently asking them to hand them over hadn’t been a huge success, so forced removal seemed the only option. The team was to be led by Angry Roger, who as it happens had found himself not to be as angry as the Colonel and was more of a slightly miffed Roger.

As soon as the team entered the compound (the Colonel’s description) they were surrounded, stripped naked and tied to the fences. Within fifteen minutes the kids had walked out of the tennis courts free as the day they were born and still in possession of their phones.  

But they didn’t stop there, the Colonel was dragged outside his home and a rope tied around his ankles, then hung upside down from a lamppost. Even though he kept shouting that the blood was running to his head, no one paid the slightest bit of attention to him. In fact later in the day, the kids started to play a game where they used the upside down Colonel to play a kind of skittles. Large plastic bottles were stood on end and the Colonel was swung around to see how many he could knock down. Miss Sligerhorn and her team took on the village teenagers and did themselves proud by winning after a tie break. 

The following Monday the ‘Great Chaos’ was over as the politicians had had enough of sitting at home; the Government returned to making laws and fiddling expenses, Miss Sligerhorn had a re-launch of her cake shop but, like the burger van man, refused to reduce her prices to pre-Chaos levels, especially on those fondant fancies. 

Without much ado, the world returned to where it had been before, that is in a much bigger mess but with people talking to each other. 

By Tuesday of the following week Miss Sligerhorn and the Colonel were wishing each other a ‘good morning’ with the usual unspoken reservations at 5.52am.

All was right with the world.



Friday, 8 June 2012

The Smile of Brighter Days by Bobby Stevenson



The smell of the coffee lured her in and so she sat blowing on the steam from her cup. The war had only been over a handful of weeks but already she felt that things were better. Bravely, she took a sip and looked out over the Boardwalk knowing that what lay ahead were brighter days.

He was going to hitch all the way no matter what his mama said. This was the 1950s: things are a whole lot different mama, we ain’t like you. He packed a small bag, kissed her on both cheeks and headed out the door, by tomorrow he’d be in the same town as Elvis. One bus journey was all that stood between him and brighter days.

He hadn’t asked God for much out of life, well not since the cancer hit his younger brother – and God had been listening that day. He hadn’t really pushed God for anything much in recent years, so that was why he was asking him to let his team win the Cup. He just knew that God had caught that one too; brighter days, indeed.

She’d been walking her kids to school when the plane hit and as they crossed around into the avenue, they could see the flames shooting from the building. She was scared and she wasn’t sure what to do except hold their hands tighter. She tried to remain calm and think of brighter days, just then one of the kids asked why the bird coming from the building was on fire.

He lost everything when the bank went under, everything, the house, the car, his job and no matter how much pleading, his wife. He was working in a car wash now and the depression had disappeared down the drain with the soap suds and water. He had nothing left, let’s be honest, but he had his health and he knew that brighter days lay just up ahead.

It was all we ever needed, the smile of brighter days.



Sunday, 3 June 2012

Two Very Short Stories of 100 Words by Bobby Stevenson



Christmas, 1963
I remember fighting a rather lonely wind as I crossed Central Park on that particular Wednesday before Christmas; an old faded newspaper flapped in the breeze against a wooden seat but I could still make out the headline: ‘JFK Dead’. They would be coming soon, those wise men from the east, the Beatles with their new English beat music. Perhaps we could stop grieving and begin to move on. I clambered up the hill, crossed Central Park West sliding in to 72nd Street and as I passed the Dakota building, a cold chill made me pull my coat in tight.

The Boy Who Told Stories
That harsh winter came without warning which meant that we spent so much of our time indoors. I knew him as the man who gave away money. He was a friend of the family and, as such, was always in our home.
“Tell me another story”, he would say, and I had those stories by the hundreds.
“Ask the boy”, my father would tell folks, “he can conjure up such wonderful worlds”.
I always wondered what happened to the man. I hear tell that he left his family and went to London; imagine that, our Mister Shakespeare in London Town.

Somewhere South (2012) by Bobby Stevenson


It was yellow that was the only way to describe the day. A sort of washed out yellow but then so were we - we too, were washed out.

The hotel itself was like an asylum decorated in muddy brown and the light, which fought the unwashed windows, gave the lobby an almost unreal quality. There was a woman at reception who was too busy flirting with the mail man to look over as she took our room keys.

“I swear this place ain’t seen paint since Eisenhower’s day” and as she laughed, she sweated even more and didn’t care that the whole world could see she only had one tooth in her head.Her neighbour, who lived just down the street in Pennsylvania Avenue, was Jimmy Carter but she didn’t see too much of him.

Then there was me and my pal Stu, two kids who were simply travelling and had decided long ago that planning was for other people. So on that hot and yellow sticky day we were aiming for the bus station and heading ‘somewhere south’. 

As we passed the FBI building, I was trying to remember a while back when I had been here with my family. We’d got caught in a downpour and had run into the J. Edgar Hoover building looking for shelter. We'd thought it was a bus station – as you do, didn’t take us long to find out it wasn’t.

Yesterday had been the Fourth of July.

After the parade, we had found ourselves sitting across from the White House where we saw what we thought to be a music concert. Cross my heart and hope to die, we honestly did think it was a music concert; there was music and there were people, what else would you think?

There was an old man throwing marijuana joints from a bag to the crowd while singing the Beatles ‘Eight Days a Week’. This was the summer of ’77, people did things like that back then. It was only when the cops on horseback started to move in that we realised it was a ‘legalize cannabis’ demo. I swear to God, it was only then.

I think it was Stu who shouted “run” and that’s what we did, all the way around to the other side of the White House where we lay on the grass next to the Washington Monument and waited for the fireworks – the ones that explode in the night sky, not the metaphorical kind.They never happened.

Some non-American guys made a camp next to us and by non-American, I mean we found out they were all from a well-known Australian rock band. One we’d actually heard of and they were good. The funny thing about this life is how it drops clues into your lap when you aren't even looking for them but I’ll come to that a bit later.

The guys from OZ spent the evening making weird and wonderful shapes, many of them pornographic, out of inflatable balloons. These kids could entertain even when they weren’t on stage and, all in all, Independence night, 1977 turned into a good one. We were still talking about it all the way to the bus the next day.

We were soon heading for a place somewhere north of Savannah, Georgia - that’s as much as I want to tell you right now. We travelled through the night and hit an Atlantic resort just as the town’s thermometer was showing the high eighties and it was still only breakfast time.

Some places just don’t do it for you and this was one of them. It had everything and nothing and so we decided to move on as quickly as possible – or rather return north. A couple of stops back was a place in the middle of nowhere, we’re talking a couple of houses and a horse at most.

What we had noticed as we'd passed through the first time was that this little town had the same name as the Oz band we’d been sitting next to the night before; see what I mean about the world working in mysterious ways?

Boy when the local bus dropped us at ......, no I ain’t going to tell you the name but we were ready for passing out. The air con didn’t work and there were far too many people on board.
Here we were in the middle of nowhere, so Stu said let’s just walk and we did, for several miles.
Until we hit the Intracoastal and to save some time here's the Wikipedia explanation:

The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000-mile (4,800-km) waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Some lengths consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays, and sounds
; others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.


Next to the Intracoastal was a solitary motel, a little like that one out of Psycho and yet a bit of a momma and pappa place too - you know homely as well.At the reception was an old drunk lady who was picking fleas from her dog.

“Can I help you boys?”I told her we wanted a room - and to make it cheap.“That’s the only kind we got in these parts honey. My husband will be along shortly to escort you young gentleman to your boudoir.”Looking back I remember that’s exactly how she said it ‘boudoir’, like she had been invented by Tennessee Williams.

She thumped an old brass bell on the reception desk as if folks were going to come jumping out of doorways any minute, but nothing much happened for a long time. We could hear the noise of an old worn out golf cart and then we saw his leg.

As he drove manically into the reception area, his army charge was led by his broken leg sticking out a good two feet in front of him (if you’ll pardon the pun).

“Hi boys, hop on.”
"The Atlantic Room." She said.
"Sure hun."

And her husband drove us like an insane person over to one of the far rooms.
“Not too many folks staying at the moment, so you boys can party all night. Now, you’ll need to excuse me.”
And he slapped his leg. “Here’s your keys boys, you can let yourselves in.” And with that, he was army charging back to the inebriated wife and the infested dog.

We found the solitary store which sold beers and chips and we made do with that for our evening meal. The next morning there was a knock at the door. Outside the owner was hitting our motel door with a large stick.“You boys up yet? I got a proposal to make to you. Come on down to the house when you’re ready.”

So we’re sitting there with the drunk wife (yep, that time in the morning and she was already gone) picking the zoo of creatures from her dog’s back, and the husband who had slid himself on to a stool. I had started to wonder if he slept in the golf buggy.

“Me and the good wife have been talking. Now until this leg...”
 and he knocked it three times on the cast “well,until it’s mended, I’m going to need some assist-tance” that was just the way he said it ‘assist-tance’,
”You boys can have a room between you and some cash. Can’t say fairer.”

Stu and I decided that was fair and we accepted. It was six bucks a day, our food and a room. Not the one we were currently in however but a more damp ridden one around to the rear of the hotel. It had a roof and beds and that was it.

For six bucks a day we had to clean the rooms, clean the pool and empty the trash, work in the kitchen and Stu (only because the Southerners could understand him better than me) worked in the bar. If I’m being real honest Stu was given, and gratefully received, all the easy jobs – if you’re reading this buddy, you know it’s true.It was a wonderful time, even if working in almost 100 degrees made the job that little bit harder.

 My first activity of the day was to clean out all the vacated rooms then put on new sheets and generally clean up - Stu’s job, at this time of day, was to empty the garbage then as I far as I can remember play the large old church organ which lay at the bottom of the steps in the big house, until hunger made him move.Now I may be doing Stu a disservice here but I don’t think so.

We both worked in the kitchens around lunchtime and as anyone who works in a kitchen will testify, it doesn't make you want to eat in the place. 

We did terrible things to peoples’ food. Taking anything that could be saved from an incoming plate, putting it on an outgoing one after heating it a little. Still there are some things in this life that you’re better not knowing.
Everyone had a siesta in the afternoon as, by then, it was well into the 100s. In the evening I served tables as Stu played the cocktail maestro. 

Now we both come from the same part of Scotland, although Stu’s lawyers have asked me not to be specific about the location as he has been telling terrible lies about his birthplace in recent years. However those people drinking in the bar could understand his tongue as if he was born there. Me? Well they always asked why I spoke all that weird Spanish – go figure.

It’s the next bit that has been troubling me all my life.

Really, this is the point of this story and why I am reluctant to tell you where it is.
One of my odder jobs in the morning was to get an old man out of his room, let him have some fresh air then stick him back in his newly cleaned room. Oh yeh, and put a new bottle of bourbon on his bedroom table. After that I had to ensure that I locked the door.

Yeh, you read it correctly, I’d lock the door. I had to unlock it and let him out in the morning. Now he wasn’t actually old, probably only in his forties but with my young years and his drinking, it made him seem a lot older.

I used to sit him by the pool and away from any of the other guests – those were my instructions – and when I cleaned his pee-stinking room, changed the sheets and replaced the drink, I’d help him back in.
Sometimes he would grab my hand and smile, other times he would say only one thing, the thing that has haunted me all those years: ‘help me’.  

One night, just before we left the motel, the question of the man in room 17 came up and a young Inuit (or Eskimo as we called her then) told me his story. It seemed that he’d been a top class, grade A lawyer but he’d murdered his wife. When some technicality or other had made things complicated, he had appealed and been released from prison early.

However someone, and no one knew who - or so they said - paid to have him stay in a small room in a stinking run down motel in the middle of nowhere.He was to talk to no one and be kept with as much alcohol as he wanted.You’re probably thinking how stupid I was not to have seen what was happening. It still wakens me up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I was his prison guard and all he wanted to do was tell someone, something – maybe the truth.

All I can say is how truly sorry I am.

 Stu and I had to leave in a hurry as some guy from the British Embassy was staying with his family and he warned us if we continued to work, he’d have to turn us in. So once again we headed somewhere south.

The place isn’t there now and I guess most of them are dead. 

The guy with the broken leg had been beaten up by three native Americans who wouldn’t pay their bill.There’s more I would like to tell you about that place but I’ll save that until the next time we meet.

Until then don't let anyone lock you in any room.