Ah, that’s better. Last week when my website was broken and I couldn’t talk to you, I went away in a huff and instead wrote a treatment for a series I’ve been putting off. Consequently I was annoyed but also productive. So, bah.
Naturally there was something I’d wanted to discuss with you last time and of course I’ve forgotten it now. I do remember thinking that I could tell you about when I worked for a firm that absolutely required me to drive a company car. No choice. It was a Fiat Accompli.
All week I’ve been waiting to say that.
This time, though, I’d like to tell you a slightly sad story from when I was child and then how pretty much the same thing happened again this week – but was fantastic.
Do you know Brean? It’s on the coast near Weston-super-Mare and when I was a child, my family must’ve gone on holiday there three or four times. What I remember most clearly, apart from buying Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama in the newsagent, is how the beach so abruptly changes to grassland.
Or I suppose it’s the other way around. Depends. As you head to the sea, you’re going across reasonably dense grass and some kind of bracken-like things, then you’re on the sand. There’s a divisor line between the two and your bare feet feel it in the heat of the sand.
It’s also a tiny bit hilly, though, and there was this one peculiar spot where the land rose up so that the sand formed a little hollow, like someone had dug a pit and then somehow hoisted it up to ground level. And this grass or bracken thing, these twigs and undergrowth, didn’t notice the hollow. They kept on going as if it weren’t there. So you had this recessed area in the ground and a roof of grass and twigs.
That was my den one year. I owned that place. It was secret and it was mine.
For one year, for one holiday.
I loved that spot so much that the next year when we came back, I ran to it.
I knew the hard-to-spot entrance and I ran through it.
And then I ran straight through the hollow and I ran immediately out the other side. Didn’t pause for one instant. And never went back, never looked back, could not then and still cannot now even find roughly where this place was.
Because this year my den belonged to a whole set of other boys.
I’m rubbish with ages but I remember seeing that they were younger than me. I knew there was no common ground, even as we stood on common ground, and this is the thing that made me sad. I also knew it was over.
Whatever I was the year before, I wasn’t any more and I never would be again.
Now, I need you to make some leaps here both in time and place because all of this is on my mind again because of what happened this week in a pub.
Some years ago, I devised a social event called Notworking. It’s under the aegis of the Writers’ Guild but it’s for writers, directors, producers and actors. Really anyone who works in our nutty profession. You get together in a bar for absolutely no reason. No speeches, no speakers, no topic. You cannot pitch, if necessary you can bitch.
The idea is that if you’re in this line then few of your friends and absolutely none of your family have the faintest clue what you do – or especially why you do it. But we do. We get it. Come have a drink and relax with your fellow travellers.
I set it all up and I’ve run some, others have run others, this one was a joint collaboration between several Writers’ Guild folk. Each time we tend to get around 20 people and, I’ll be honest with you, it’s usually the same faces. I like those faces.
But this time, I got there early, being the professional organiser as you do, and the bar was mostly empty but for about six people at the back. And they called out to me: “Are you looking for the Notworking evening?”
I did not recognise any of them and they didn’t know me. It was actually slightly awkward:
THEM: So what do you do?
ME: Er, I organise this event.
I think by its peak, this Notworking event had perhaps 25 people and – I’m guessing here – probably 12 or 15 had never met or even heard of me.
But they were there having a great time because, in part, of me. At one point I just looked around at all these happy people and it was wonderful.
It wasn’t the same as Brean where I wasn’t known and so therefore wasn’t welcome, it was more that I wasn’t known and wasn’t needed – because the original Notworking idea in my head has become its own reality. I could’ve walked away and nobody would’ve noticed, nothing would’ve stopped, it wouldn’t have been any quieter.
Actually, I did walk away for a moment: I walked out with someone when they were leaving. They were leaving the event but also leaving Birmingham and I’ll miss them. As we headed out, the heat of the room became the cool of the outside evening, you could feel the difference in your feet.
We said goodbye up some steps toward the Mailbox and when I turned to go back, I could see the light of the bar flickering and the sound of it coming and going on the wind.
Whoever I was when I was a child back in Brean, I’m not anymore. And I prefer this me.
Listen, this is important. I neither want to suggest that this particular event just coalesced by itself or that I was solely responsible for it. My Writers’ Guild colleagues and friends Tim Stimpson and Martin Sketchley worked on it too and we wouldn’t have been at Pennyblacks by the Mailbox without them. I’d not even heard of that place and now I like it hugely.
And I also really like having a website back. Now, next time the site goes down, we must go to Pennyblacks together and talk properly. Okay?