Second Draft – and still no title


We’re still a week away from the end of June, which was the target I originally set myself for completing the transcription of the novel I wrote thirty years ago this year that I’ve long since referred to as The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel.

Well, not only did that transcription get transcribed a good long way ahead of schedule, and not only does a published paperback of that version of the story sit on my desk now, but I am still six days up and I have today completed a completely unanticipated Second Draft. And I still haven’t thought of a title for it.

The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical Second Draft is not the end of it, however. I have accomplished the most part of the things I set out to do, though there is one loose end the tying off of which I have managed to overlook, which I will rectify in due course. I know where it needs to be inserted, but it is probably not going to be enough to simply write a new section and plug in, as that chapter is already a bit top-heavy, so I’m going to have to juggle a few more things around.

For those of you interested in the process of writing itself, I have to say it’s once again been a fascinating experience. In some respects, this has been less a Second Draft than a collaborative re-write. ‘He’, being the younger me, has set the terms of the book. He has adapted the events of real life, to which he was a lot closer in time, into this fictional framework of people, place and event. Large tracts of his work needed no more than some minor neatening, a slightly smoother flow, changes in punctuation, removing redundancies: he was a lot less certain of what he had to tell the audience and this version has a lot more confidence in them.

Other sections have had to be drastically trimmed, or deleted entirely, not merely to create space for new scenes, other characters, the whole process of Second Draft rewriting where you can implant subtle references to things that will appear later. Some scenes have been rewritten entirely, sometimes to refresh them, or find a better way of expressing them, sometimes to change entirely what happens. Some things have been brought closer to the surface, so that the audience can see them where the characters can’t.

I’ve had to be careful about style. How I write has changed considerably since 1987, and I should bloody well hope so too! That has had to be dialled back upon, in order to blend more harmoniously with my collaborator. I was a lot plainer in style then, though “he” has surprised me many times with things he’s written that I could now conceive (I am yet further convinced that this is coming from somewhere in the subconscious, not from me), and whilst I’ve loosened some things up, I’ve had to stay within certain limits.

I’ve changed less than I expected to, after all this length of time, and so, after a suitable break for mental recoupment, during which time I may tinker a bit with at least one of the other half-stories that I have been unable to develop as I wished this past half-decade, we shall resume ere long for a Third Draft.

I just wish I could come up with a remotely decent title.

My Day as a Ghost


Yesterday wasn’t a good day. Last week wasn’t a good week, but yesterday I was a ghost.

I feel perpetually exhausted, both mentally and physically, these days. Even a four day break from work, up to and including last Sunday, did nothing to change that. I had a rush of blood with the Second Draft and did five chapters in those four days, leaving me only the final two to deal with, and as this is the Third Act, and the emotional crux, it’s pretty draining work to begin with.

Nor did the high temperatures and hot sun of the first three days help me. I don’t do this kind of weather well in any event, only really managing it when I can either sprawl out on the benches at Old Trafford and watch cricket, or wander beaches and beachfronts in Mallorca: zuma naranja, agua sin gas and Coca-Cola Lite. It didn’t help that for at least the first half of Tuesday, I was in serious pain with my right knee. It’s been increasingly sore for years and I’m pretty much doomed to arthritis in it, if it hasn’t already developed, but this was throbbing mercilessly at regular intervals, no matter what I did to ease it, until it just went away, like that.

But on Thursday, after lunch, I developed toothache. I don’t have a dentist, I haven’t been to one in nearly a decade. I hate them. My ex-wife used to have to go with me, and sometimes hold my hand, and she said I didn’t so much shake as vibrate. It wasn’t a particularly jabbing pain, but it was a persistent one, and I didn’t sleep on Thursday night.

I think I got some rest in, maybe ninety minutes at the back end of darkness, but I was awake the rest of the time, in that intermediate state somewhere between wakefulness and conscious dreaming, my mind drifting under only partial direction. Friday morning, I was wierded out. My tooth was easing, but I was still very aware of it, and I couldn’t have gone best-out-of-three with a wet dishrag.

I shouldn’t have gone in to work but my absence record couldn’t afford it. I was limp, mentally as well as physically, and I was doing everything so slowly, snails were backed up behind me and tooting their horns.

As you know, I work in a call centre, as part of an efficient, second-tier customer support team dealing with technical faults ad customers of all attitudes. Fridays we’re relatively thin in numbers and I took my seat in my usual spot. Almost immediately, it got impossible to bear.

One of my team-mates, with whom I get along well, is irascible at the best of times. He’s undergoing stress himself, with a succession of headaches, and the number of things that irritate him seems to be growing, but his big bugbear is whistling. He cannot stand it, it is his nails-on-a-blackboard. Of course, another of our team-mates, who is big and booming and eccentric to begin with, starts whistling, and doesn’t take kindly to attempts to check him, making this almost a freedom-of-speech thing. It’s doing my head in and I haven’t even logged on.

My team leader is already aware I feel lousy. I tell him that as soon as I’ve done this urgent callback I’ve promised for one o’clock, I’m moving workstations, somewhere further away.

It takes three attempts to find one where I can work. It’s of only minimal effect: this is a call centre, we are a team of talkers, we have plenty of people who live to talk and who can charitably be described as distinctive, also as loud. Two get into an argument that results in one storming out briefly. I am as far away as it’s physically possible to be and still be on our team, and I have become a ghost.

When customers come on the line, I can summon the energy to deal with them, albeit in a calm, subdued manner. I’m laidback in my approach anyway: my schtick is empathy, calmness, confidence: let’s see what I need to do to fix it for you. This doesn’t help me with the guy who phones up early on to complain that his Broadband – which he took out only a month ago – may be fixed now but it’s too slow. He’s one of those who treat it as a personal insult that we’ve given him Broadband this useless, as if we’ve selected him for unfair treatment instead of it being the inevitable, and unalterable consequence of the distance between his house and the Exchange. He wants to upgrade to Fibre, and he wants a good deal out of us.

He says it as if we owe it to him. Now we continually have differing offers for new and upgrading customers but it so happens that there are currently none except if the customer simultaneously takes out one of our television packages. That offer is good: it’s a lot of product for a little outlay and it’s locked in for eighteen months, but I don’t know from TV. I don’t know the prices, I don’t know the packages, my head cannot cope with all the various alternatives and a customer who’s being as much of an arsehole as this one. Whilst I’ve got him on hold, and a colleague is blithely drowning me in details I’d struggle to understand in a normal state, he hangs up on me, which is best for both of us.

From then on, it’s nothing but technical stuff of varying complexity. Come six o’clock, three of my louder colleagues reach the end of their shifts and leave, but the two who started things off with the argument over the whistling are, like me, on till nine o’clock. I am miles away, miserly conserving what little energy I’ve got, combating the headache that hasn’t shifted all day. I don’t want to talk to anyone, though conversation would help eat up the looming time, but I am not noticed recognised, spoken to. I am a ghost, not even sure of my own corporeality. The new t-shirt I am wearing today, which would ordinarily have been remarked upon approvingly by several people (Fools! I Will Destroy You All! (ask me how)) isn’t even noticed.

Probably they’re being sensitive to my silence and my distance, but it’s Friday evening, six till nine, the last and worst hours and my eight pm I am done. I don’t have anything left, except guilt that they’re taking calls and I’m staring at old matters, checking details, filling in time because I am a deadweight.

And the irony is that when it officially reaches 9.00pm and I log off, they’re both out of the building before I’ve even returned my gear to my locker.

I slept better last night, but I don’t foresee me doing much this weekend. There are few necessary chores: food shopping later today is the only compulsory one. Having allowed myself to get a full five episodes behind on iZombie, I plan to continue my one-a-day catch-up. And having taken in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 last Sunday, I hope to feel up to Wonder Woman tomorrow, and if so write an Uncollected Thoughts about it.

And there is one scene, and one short coda left to revise and the Second Draft will be complete, though that doesn’t mean the book will be complete as there is still more to do before I consider it publishable. I shalln’t be going in for much human contact this weekend. But I shall be real both Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday, I was a Ghost.

Back at no. 1


As one old enough to remember when the original ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ by Simon and Garfunkel was released, I have mixed feelings about the Simon Cowell organised charity version that’s crashed straight in at no 1, on only two days sales.

On the one hand, I applaud the money it will raise for those who suffered in the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, but on the other, I plan to spend the rest of my life never hearing it.

Brian Cant, R.I.P.


Here is a box,

A musical box,

Wound up and ready to play.

But this box can hide

A secret inside.

Can you tell who is in it today?

 

There is a new resident in Camberwick Green tonight, living near the bus stop to Trumpton. Mr Cant, the gentle genius, will fit right in.

May the cheese always be cracking


The announcement today that Peter Sallis has died at the age of 96 finally rings down the curtain on the Last of the Summer Wine era. None are left now of that immortal trio of Foggy, Cleggy and Compo (with respect to the late gone Michael Bates as unforgotten Cyril Blamire).

And there can never be any Wallace and Grommit again, for no-one else could voice that sterling little inventor.

That we had such marvels for so long should be what we marvel at.  So long, and thanks for all the joy.

A Win for Manchester


I watched the Europe League Cup Final last night in a rather different frame of mind than I’d expected. The greyness of the season disappeared in the circumstances of what happened on Monday night, which still fills me with pain. I have learned this morning that the missing 14 year old girl from the Hebrides has now been confirmed to be among the dead, I learned yesterday that the bomber, may he be resurrected to die and be resurrected to die again again until he has suffered as many deaths as he caused, this bastard went to my old school.

So last night couldn’t be normal if it tried from here until eternity, and winning was both irrelevant and essential, and it wasn’t about United winning for me and my all the other Reds and our club, it was about our own and how we will never give in and we will not be stopped, no matter what you do, and instead of elation and excitement, I greeted the final whistle with sobbing, the release of tension.

It keeps welling up. I contain it at work, which consists of listening to people tell me that their broadband or their telephone isn’t working and it’s not good enough, and yesterday afternoon I came closer than I have done in over twenty years to losing my rag with a customer/client over the phone. I was shaking, physically, by the end.

Because I can’t let go at work. I’m not like that in real life either. I may rant and rave here but I don’t do it in person, I sit, I absorb, I am cool, laid-back, professional, so all the rawness has to happen once I’m back here and alone. And there’s stuff going on all over Manchester at the moment, in places and streets I know.

I have banned myself for a short time from a group of friends, a private political forum, that is discussing the implications of all this on the Election that takes place two weeks from today, who see conspiracy theories in how the Tories are reacting to this. In other circumstances, I would see exactly the same things as them, if this had happened/was happening in Leeds, or Newcastle, or Bristol or Nottingham, but it isn’t. I’m the only one from Manchester and I’m too near it.

Yesterday began early, with another Counselling session: good and helpful in many ways but it started with both of us, the Counsellor and I, in tears again about what had been done.

So winning last night was unimportant and important both. It was about standing up and not being phased by it. Had the finalists been our hated rivals Manchester City, I would have supported them to win, would have applauded their victory, would have still sobbed with relief.

I’m sorry. Allow me this self-indulgence. These are hard days to get through. I’ll try not to let this happen again.