All About My Dandy – more background

a programme note for ‘I Am Dandy’ (1999)

Back in the days when gentlemen’s style magazines were attempting a balance between chesty starlets and feature articles of substance, rather than the current formula designed solely to dance in your well-lagered lap, the pioneering and much missed Editor of GQ, the late Michael VerMeulen, invited me to fly to Las Vegas in order to nail the alien thing. Las Vegas is as close as you can fly to Area 51, also known as Dreamland, a swathe of land attached to the gigantic acreages of Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert.

VerMeulen was happy to pay fees and air fares for a feature that we both knew would signally fail to deliver anything of substance if substance was to comprise the uncovering of an unwholesome relationship between the American government and extra-terrestrial creatures able to bend gravity to their passionless will. The Editor, a man of strong views often delivered across crowded rooms in a stentorian manner, regarded the whole alien thing as bullshit. He had, however, a taste for material that attempted to understand what lay behind beliefs that were impetuously adopted yet widely distributed. My brief was to cover a lot of ground, some of which lay between Nellis and Roswell, New Mexico, much of which would focus on tales and fragments that could be found flying at ever increasing speed through the cloud chambers of the contemporary mythosphere.

My own fascination with impetuous belief derives in part from an eager and immersive experience of the Sixties. To wind back that far is to make a shortish story far too long – it will be sufficient to submit that I did everything you were supposed to do in those years of letgo and associated with some hardened practitioners of the art of Living in Vagueness. The mastery of the vague, which loosened so many from the austere and straitened materialism of the Fifties, was to become, in the ensuing decades, the invaluable philosophical instrument of those for whom the confusion of the outer with the inner would constitute a strategy for survival.

I must try to be precise about what I mean by vagueness. So totally uncool did the material world become in the course of the 60s that systems of analysis originating from it were summarily dismissed from usage. The act of evaluation was similarly curtailed – it was okay to love or hate things but not, like, as an ego. Things were good because they emanated their goodness – all you needed to do was submit to these essences in order to appreciate them. This was not the reluctant strategy of the Self under fire, it was a voluntary liquidation in the interests of attunement to a universe of essence and vibration. At the street level it meant that a lot of the people you knew consistently stopped short of saying what they thought or felt in favour of a fulsome, celebratory issuance of vapour. Psychology still existed but it was recomposed in terms of value-free interiority – the further you travelled inside, the closer you came to formless essence. The psyche was certainly not a place of intensification or contradiction.

I went along with a fair amount of bollocks back then but the business of valorising vagueness unsettled me. It seemed to involve little more than the worship of Nothing and, as such, had advanced no further than the faiths and beliefs of the straights and normals who had constructed the horrid world that we wished to supplant.

The idea that certain monolithic and enduring spiritual institutions are based on Nothing has never ceased to astound me. The idea that a subscription to Nothing might get you through the night hardly seems fair. The decisiveness and efficiency with which many people lead lives based on a vague belief that there is some overall purpose to their activities leads me to conclude, sourly and enviously, that there must be something in all this Nothing. Clearly it would be comforting to believe in some of this bullshit but really, life’s too short.

Over the last thirty years I have been involved in a personal yoga of disentanglement featuring the assumption of a variety of difficult and ineptly balanced positions. For several years, once the Sixties wound down into 1973 or thereabouts, I was simply relieved not to have to affect a childlike openness to experience in the same breath as a demonstration of worldweary, omniscient cool. This was a double bind well worth consigning to oblivion. It was not until the late Eighties that I began to realise that my encounters with the Vague, always a source of irritation, were on the increase again and were, this time around, accompanied by the feeling that Vague had gone mainstream. It is tempting but possibly romantic to speculate that the psychic counterpoint to the craven, Thatcherite engorgement of the wallet was an anxious yearning for emptiness.

The entangled dance between these extremes is nowhere more eloquently performed than on the Strip in Las Vegas. Locked in a slow, humid conga, thousands of tourists shuffle past the spectacular hotel and casino facades whose incongruous pastiches induce a love of flying – far, far away from the roulette wheel to places of adventure, grandeur and timeless wisdom. The Luxor Hotel is strong on the latter commodity – a scale model of the Great Pyramid of Cheops fronted by a painted Sphinx as long as a 707, it offers ensuite apartments terraced all the way up to the pyramidal apex and, at no extra cost, the implied possibility of communing with the cat and dog gods who inspired men to make mummies and move masonry.

At this intersection of the ancient astral and the American attraction I took a buffet lunch with a man who lived in a trailer town right next to Area 51. Glenn Campbell was author of The Groom Lake Desert Rat, an electronic newsletter from the front line of contemporary mass hallucination. His wry, sceptical field reports had captivated me for months. Campbell, aka PsychoSpy, wrote regularly about the exotic characters who either lived in or made pilgrimages through Rachel, Nevada (pop 103). Despite the amused distance he kept from the subjects of his reports, Campbell was patently enthralled by some of the detailed accounts that he had extracted from those privileged to reverse engineer anti-gravity devices alongside helpful aliens in heavily secured hangars.

When I visited Rachel myself, I met Sharon, the young woman employed by Campbell as his assistant at the Area 51 Research Centre – an archive and sales outlet housed in a weather-beaten trailer. As I poked around she let me in on a truth about the whole alien thing. The grey tourists with toddlers’ bodies, it transpired, were actually the fallen troops of Satan, abetted by members of the New Age movement. They had been despatched to deceive us about the imminent Rapture, wherein the righteous would ascend to Heaven for ‘a seven year party’ while those bearing the Mark of the Beast would stay behind, standing on their heads in a sea of excrement. Or something like that. I may be conflating two accounts here, one of them last heard some considerable time ago, in the shadows at the back of the bike sheds.

To move from Glen Campbell’s futurism to his assistant’s medievalism in the space of a car ride from Las Vegas to Rachel was to embrace the unfussy inclusiveness of contemporary hysterical belief. The historical sequencing of folklore seems to have collapsed, leaving a pick’n’mix that subverts the notion that the things people believe in are invariably determined by certain specifics of their time. At the end of the 19th century flying objects were often identified as extraterrestrial blimps or gas balloons. Our 20th century sightings of flying saucers are informed by our passage into the age of jets and rockets. This sort of analysis is useful but as a model it does not stretch to an explanation of our concurrent sightings of angels, spirits, fairies and Satanic ritual abusers.

As Elaine Showalter points out in ‘Hystories’, her account of contemporary hysterical epidemics, the clinically efficient late 19th century diagnosis of hysteria, then restricted almost entirely to women, has little value a century later, when modern media have the capacity to disseminate anxiety about a wide range of topics on a global scale. The pervasiveness of this ‘anxietised news’ contributes to the formation of a new style of hysteria characterised by what could be called a broad-minded credulity afflicting men and women alike and drawing on centuries of superstition as well as a predictable menu of fashionable hot topics.

To drive, as I did, from Nevada to New Mexico and back again was to snorkel through some fairly turbid undercurrents. In a motel in Arizona I took a room next to the one used by the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, when he was planning his destruction of the Federal Building, a deed that would result in the deaths of 168 people. The motel manager assured me that McVeigh was ‘A very nice young man, very nice. Very polite.’ After his arrest, McVeigh claimed that he was compelled to do what he did because the US Army had implanted a mind control microchip in his buttock.

Somehow the idea that McVeigh was very nice seemed to be a precondition for such an invasive procedure. If he had been a very nasty young man then the attentions of a malign implanter would have been superfluous. Obviously, a very nice young man would not dream of doing what he did unless he had been tampered with. This predilection for the remote control of innocent citizens is something the US Army shares with extra-terrestrials, whose favourite orifice for such lodgements, according to the literature, is the nose. All this is to place the cart before the horse, however, for we are first obliged to ask who or what it was that implanted the extraterrestrials in the minds of very nice people. And while we’re about it, we should wonder about the implantation of fairies and angels, spirits and demons, the madness of cows and the vague feeling that there is a pattern behind, like, everything.

In her essay ‘On Circles’, presented elsewhere in this programme, Carole Silver persuasively demonstrates the persistence of certain structures beneath some of the implantations. She compares the activities around fairy rings to 20th century alien abduction scenarios then describes the manner in which hundreds of years of folklore can come full circle, as it were, when crop rings and alien visitations are fused into a single narrative. Originality is under attack here – despite the obligation to update the trappings of these tales with references to contemporary technology, it seems we can only dream or imagine according to templates that are as old as the hills.

These supernatural events are not, of course, seen as imaginary. Things are being done to us. In this sense there is a continuum running from a delight in faerie to a conviction that central government is out to get us and will use all the covert devices necessary to bend us to its will, to disarm us, if you like. Politics, presumably, begins at the point when the things that are being done to us are attributed to agencies in the real world. The Oklahoma City bombing, as a response to things being done to a very nice young man, is, in these terms, pre-political. This notion, however, begs so many questions that I’ll just move along now.

If we could resist suggestion none of this would be going on. Suggestibility is the key and suggestibility is the ultimate concern of ‘I Am Dandy’. Before a suggestion can take hold, attention must be monopolised. Everyone knows how to do this. It’s what you do when you want people to pay attention to you. No conversation would work without it. Our minds would wander, registering an attention deficit.

Attention seekers may monopolise against our will, when we will feel brainwashed,bullied or hectored. They may install a monopoly without our knowing, in which case we might, if we found out, claim to have been subliminally influenced. There is a special case, though, in which we actually consent to the reduction of our resistance to the monopoly. This might be called hypnosis.

The example of the pioneering and innovative hypnotist Milton H. Erickson forces a reassessment of hypnotism in general. Rather than commandeering attention, Erickson appears to slip in through the back door and, before his subject knows it, behave as if he were the lodger. Erickson talks constantly to the subject, in a low-key manner, eschewing explicit instructions in favour of rambling, chatty small talk. Present in these ramblings are unobtrusive suggestions, often disguised as convivial invitations to sit back and take it easy. Single words associated with pleasure and relaxation are worked quite repetitively into sentences – again, not as instructions but colloquial embellishments. Using what at least sounds like rather monotonous and unremarkable conversation, Erickson delivers his subjects into deep trance.

If Erickson can do it, why can’t we? Sounds easy enough. Notwithstanding the tremendous craft and subtlety deployed by Erickson, it may be that, as keen amateurs, we all have some of his skill and much of the suggestibility of his subjects. It may be that we are endowed with the capacity to facilitate trance in others and ourselves. The same sort of thing has been said of telepathy, of course, and the evidence for such a latency is practically nonexistent. But if trance is seen as emerging from the close control of attention, wherein the subject becomes indifferent to all but a narrow range of input then our everyday lives suddenly seem rather entrancing.

To be entranced readily is to be available, it may be a precondition of hysteria. All the wild scares, all the mad enthusiasms – and their equally energetic disavowals – put down their roots in such easy capture. ‘I Am Dandy’ seeks to examine a continuum that runs from everyday persuasion and cajolement to unconcealed hypnosis. It suggests that the seeds of mass hysteria and moral panics are to be found in the most commonplace transactions. Featuring scenes in which members of a group use a range of overt and covert hypnotic techniques to enforce their will, the show alludes not only to ordinary bullying but to some of the rather more controversial phenomena that constitute the hysterical landscape. The broad-minded credulity of its characters facilitates their immersion in the warps of recovered memory and the transports of abduction, possession and delusion. The idea that in trance there is truth offers them something that is simultaneously fragile, focused and nourishingly vague.

1999

I Am Dandy – the First Section

The show was written in separate sections. At the time of writing I had no firm sense of the proper order of the sections, I found this out through rehearsal. The section below, however, was intended to open the show.
Writing in this modular way helped me to avoid narrative, which I consider inappropriate for theatre. I don’t mind it in films but that’s another story.
Theatre scripts shouldn’t be a great read, they should be an okay read. Otherwise why go to the theatre?
This script only describes some of the action. Between each section the actors had to get from place to place. These movements were evolved in rehearsal. If you wrote them into a script it would be tedious to read.
The characters are called A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H in the script. This was because initially I wanted to eliminate writing for gender. The company comprised four women and four men and roles were allotted in rehearsal. From the point at which roles were taken up the actors gendered their roles according to their gender. Similar attitudes pertained to the notion of character. In rehearsal it sometimes became convenient to give, say, a couple of B’s lines to G. If you write strong, psychologically rounded characters you can’t do this. The actors were all very skilled and intelligent. They overcame the writer’s reticence in matters of character and gradually imposed characters on their roles. This always happens. Character is over-rated. Structure is what counts.
In the play the characters have proper names, like Mark and Cherry. Several of them have more than one name. This is because they aren’t necessarily the same person all the time. Sometimes they are the same person but other characters ignore this and give them different names.


Lost in Thought
The cast of eight – four women and four men – is discovered seated on chairs arranged in a row upstage. A, B, G and H are men. C, D, E and F are women.
The women wear elegant dark dresses and high heeled shoes, the men wear smart dark suits and white shirts with ties. All are well groomed.
They look personable, pleasant and keen. They are in neutral mode – not frozen or very still, just not doing anything yet.
This opening tableau is held for quite a long time. After a while one of the performers, A, puts his hand up to his face, assuming, in a low key way, a thoughtful pose. The others notice this and study him with interest. One of the performers asks him a question.
B Mark? [A appears not to hear] Mark? What are you doing?
[Pause. Still no response] What are you doing?
A looks up.
A I was lost in thought.
B What do you think about?
A I think about the past.
A longish pause as the performers consider this intelligence.
C Really? [A appears not to hear.] Mark? [A looks up.] Do you really?
A What?
C Do you really do that?
A I’m sorry?
C What you just said – was it true?
A Did I say something?
Pause
The performer C [Pauline] assumes a thoughtful pose. The others notice this.
B [To E] Pauline is lost in thought.
E appears not to hear. B assumes a thoughtful pose.
D What is there in the past, Mark? Can you remember?
F His name isn’t Mark.
D assumes a thoughtful pose. By this time A, B, C, D and E are all lost in thought.
Pause
G [With sudden excitement] It would be marvellous if… [G’s voice trails off and he becomes lost in thought. After a while he has another idea] Wouldn’t it be terrific if the…if the…
[His voice trails off again and he becomes lost in thought]
G’s reverie is interrupted by H
H If the…?
G turns his attention to H
G Wouldn’t it be terrific if people had more in common!
G becomes lost in thought again
H Tom! That would be marvellous! [H becomes lost in thought for a moment then, with sudden excitement, has another idea] If people had more in common… [H becomes lost in thought for a short moment then completes his statement excitedly] If people had more in common then a lot of terrible things would never come to a head!
G snaps out of his reverie excitedly, as do all the others who are lost in thought i.e. A, B, C, D and E.
In loose unison the performers rise from their seats, moving into an enthusiastic, animated cluster. They laugh gaily, shake hands, kiss and bear hug each other – lifting one another off the ground and whirling round, greeting each other like long lost friends. G and H are congratulated heartily for their ideas.

the first section ends

§§§§§

Bexhill Bummer – Intro to ‘What Did De La Warr?’

It sounded good on the phone. My partner from the days of Lumiere & Son, Hilary Westlake, asked me if I fancied writing a speech for an event to be held in Bexhill-on-Sea on August Bank Holiday, 2005. The De La Warr Pavilion, a 1930s Modernist architectural gem on the seafront of that town, had been refurbished and an enterprising producer had approached Hilary and some other artists and performers with a view to commissioning them to devise an entertaining opening ceremony.


My job would entail writing one single speech, to be used by an actor impersonating a VIP who had been invited to open the building. The VIP would prove to be so incompetent that the building itself would be affronted and attempt to silence him by flashing its lights, rumbling its plumbing and finally erupting with gouts of water and clouds of steam. Live music would be provided by French performance group Les Grooms while the building would be animated by Avanti Display. One of the perks of the job would involve a trip to France for a week’s discussion and rehearsal.


I started thinking about just what sort of incompetence the VIP might demonstrate. I concluded that he hadn’t done his homework and had arrived under the impression that the Pavilion was of the sort used by cricketers in the course of a match. This would cause him to digress dramatically from an appropriately themed opening speech.


I spent several hours on the first few paragraphs then sent them to Hilary to get some feedback before proceeding any further. I also wrote to the producer, requesting a portion of the money up front, as per standard practice. A day later I learned that the funding for the entire project had fallen through.


It felt a bit like a film experience – the one where you write outlines and treatments and sample scenes for no money and nothing whatsoever happens. It had never happened to me on a live performance project. And I had half a speech that would never get used. I’m mounting it on the site because I quite like parts of it and it would only go off otherwise.

§§§§§

What Did De La Warr?

an unfinished monologue commissioned for a celebration to mark the completed refurbishment and re-opening of the De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea in 2005. The celebration never took place as funding fell through. I stopped writing at that point but I quite like some bits of the first draft hereunder.

All the geographical and some of the historical references in this monologue are to real places, institutions and events. I imagined this fastidiousness might lend the text a frisson communicable to locals in the audience.

The VIP speaker has not done his research and thinks that the Pavilion is used to house cricketers.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is with a sense of tremendous pride that I am able to welcome you this evening to the opening of the splendidly refurbished De La Warr Pavilion. We are gathered here, in this elegant and inspiring entrance area, to pay tribute to the vision and indefatigability of a number of highly motivated individuals, civic groups, local supporters and national benefactors. Before acknowledging the contributions of these dedicated people, I would like to invite you to consider some of the rich associations conjured by the idea of the ‘pavilion’.

Those of you here, and there will, of course, be many of you, with a passion for cricket, particularly that generated within the hallowed precincts of the Sussex County Cricket Club, which has thrust forth such legendary national team captains as C. B. Fry, who, it will be remembered, did much to foster international relations when he suggested, in 1934, to Herr Hitler that Germany might take up test cricket, a suggestion that the German leader did not put into practice although he did see to it that a group of boys from the Hitler Youth would visit our country where they were made welcome on the HMS Mercury training ship at Southampton which dear old CB ran with his wife of 48 years, Beatrice. Southampton is, of course, readily accessed from Bexhill by the A259 which leads, after a few miles, to the junction with the A27 at Polegate, after which it’s a pretty straight run along the South Downs through to Hampshire. This, of course, forcibly brings to mind Rother Council’s splendid Polegrove Recreation Ground in Brockley Road, Bexhill, site of the Bexhill-on-sea cricket club, which returns me to my theme and our common purpose here tonight.


I was a Number Six man myself but I had among my retinue boys who were partial to Senior Service, Kensitas and even the rather racey Peter Stuyvesant. There we would gather, of an early morning perhaps, or during break time, sheltered from authority’s gaze by the bike sheds on one side and, on the other, the Stanley Evershed Pavilion, donated to the school by that renowned industrialist from Lincoln who did so much to establish the tubeless tyre in this country to the extent that the term ‘tubeless tyre’ is now in broad household use. Lincoln, founded by the Romans and formerly known as ‘Lindum colonia’ from the Celtic for pool, itself a popular pastime even to this day and easily reached via, largely, the A21, M25 and A1.


Cupping our hands around the forbidden ‘fags’ as we called them – this was before the gay community had commandeered the term, nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add, if cricket has taught us one thing it is that every team needs its Deep Fine Leg and must be prepared to deploy a number of unconventional positions in the field – we would inhale deeply, thinking nothing of the very real possibility that we were stunting our growth.

Indeed, as we are gathered here in celebratory mood, I can say that I have enjoyed a number of cigarettes a day since the age of fourteen and can report no significant developmental arrestation, as my smiling and recently refurbished wife will aver. Only joking, of course, she is a lovely woman and sports the same firm, regular bodily features that drew me to her so hotly when she was a youngster, if I may refer again to sports, that great binding theme that glues us to this large opening.

So there we have it – a place where groups of men may slip out of their workaday garments, ease into a protective box then don the distinctive whites before striding out to seek the sweet spot on the wooden bat before the slender stumps. And afterwards, regardless of what has been notched up, these tired but limber teamfolk, now stained at the knee with chlorophyll and at the groin with red leather, will troop into the welcoming hall clitter clatter the sounds of spikes upon doughty concrete where the players’ wives have laid out a terrific spread “Oh well done Margery!” the cry of the captain as he spots the neat sandwiches and bright fancies. And Arthur ‘Girly’ Brickham, useful medium pace bowler, turns to me and jovially calls, as he always does, “Come on, ‘Smutty’, Inky pinky parlez vous!” referring to the slightly saucy song beloved of sportsmen around the English-speaking world, I’m sure you can all remember a verse or two:

(SINGS) Two German soldiers crossed the Rhine – Parlez vous
Two German soldiers crossed the Rhine – Parlez vous
They kissed the girls and drank the wine. (BREAKS OFF)

Actually, they didn’t ‘kiss’ the girls but there are children present, surprisingly, considering the late hour, but I think you’ll get my meaning if you’re from Effingham in Surrey. Which is, of course, the headquarters of the Effingham and Leatherhead Cricket Club.

2005

not to be continued…

§§§§§

A Clip of Roy

In this clip we see a number of the protagonists from ‘In the Bosom of Roy‘ (Show #1 in the Dash Dash Dash series) demonstrating their readiness for service in a succession of what will be challenging but quite irresolvable situations.

An Introduction and the scripts of the six Dash shows can be found in the Archive list to your right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RARuj5Q6PG4

I Must Be Joking – Intro to Jokes

I got a call from Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment. The company had been touring a show called ‘Marathon Lexicon’ for which pieces of writing had been commissioned from a variety of writers and academics. The pieces had simple titles and were assembled into an alphabetised collection. The show would run for several hours, during which some but not all of the lexicon would be presented. The audience could come and go throughout the presentation if the prospect of sitting still for twelve hours unsettled them.

Tim asked if I would write a piece on jokes. As I’m rather keen on jokes I was pleased to take the commission.

I knew I had a couple of unused joke-related bits somewhere on my hard disk so I dug them out. The text for the anecdote about Bobby Sands was adapted from the outline to an as yet unwritten autobiography, as was some of the material on humour and risk assessment. The rest of it was fresh.

I haven’t seen the show yet – I’ll have to wait until it comes to London again.

2003

Note: the ‘autobiography’ stalled at about 140 pages. I tried calling it a ‘memoir’ in order to make it feel less burdensome. It didn’t make a lot of difference. (2019)