Sunday, July 29, 2007


On the brink of the summer break, Denise the Director brought together her contractors and assorted staff. I was prone to wonder, would anything of this collective annual review – featuring 12 individual minds - light my fire:

Denise: …We’ve done a lot over the past couple of years – nationally, as you are aware, we are highly regarded. In terms of school change, we’ve encouraged and supported a lot of teachers and head-teachers to be a bit more risk-taking. Many have embraced this challenge, whilst others… have struggled.
Colleague #1: It’s a bit difficult when the language of this sort of thing – ‘risk-taking’, or ‘change’ – is so woolly -
Colleague #2: We just have to keep on at the stragglers, or strugglers - nothing stands still.
Colleague #3: They all know that nothing stands still. That’s why this talk of ‘change’ will always fall on some deaf ears – it’s like trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs.
Shane: (pause) I wonder why anyone’s grandmother would suck eggs.
Denise: Mm, all fair points – egg-sucking grandmothers aside. No, after the summer, I would like us to shift our focus. (pause) Along with the schools, we’ve all worked with many different artists and organisations - cultural shakers and cultural movers, if you will – many of you yourselves, in fact. I would like us to shift our talk of risk-taking more towards this group of people – to ourselves, even. For the next phase of our work, I would like us to think more in terms of ‘cultural risk-taking’.
Colleague #1: (blank expression)
Colleague #2: (doodling)
Colleague #3: Hmmm.
Shane: (pause) I agree, hmmm.

Since that meeting, I asked two artist colleagues – one a musician, one a theatre director - how they would interpret ‘cultural risk-taking’. The first response, and its echo, was along the lines of ‘Just basically doing stuff that is out my comfort zone - that’s a bit new, that stretches me, that makes me develop how I work’. Fair responses, but I want more. Thus, I find myself pondering ‘When have I borne witness to cultural risk-taking?’ ‘How did I know that it was cultural risk-taking?’ ‘What did it look like?' and 'What did it feel like?’

Though a fire has yet to be lit, there is a spark in the mid-distance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Emma has taken a week off work to coincide with the start of Alex’ six week school holiday. After that, Alex will spend day-times with his Dad, with his Grandpa, with me, and with some school pals.

At the end of Holiday Day #1:

Shane: You alright?
Emma: (unconvincingly) Yeah.
Shane: A good day?
Emma: Yeah – we did a lot. He liked playing with Molly – and I got to talk to Harriette – which was good. He also thought it was hilarious leading our bike ride round the woods – I’m not cut-out for that sort of thing - it was mud galore – I got mud on my face!
Shane: (amused) Did he accidentally wheel-spin in front of you?
Emma: Yes! How did you know that?
Shane: I taught him how to do it – he got me with the same trick yesterday. He’s good. I felt very proud.
Emma: (pause) I’m knackered, I can’t keep up with him and it’s only Day One of the holiday!
Shane: Oh dear.
Emma: This ‘quality time’ – it’s shit!
Shane: But, what was it again… ‘I really want to spend the full week with him – cos we don’t often get to do that, and we’ll both benefit from some quality time…’
Emma: Oh, fuck off.
Shane: (amused) Now then, that conversation about having children and so on – would now be a good time?
Emma: You’d get a shock if I said ‘Yes’.
Shane: Actually yeah, I would. Maybe we can talk later… Two thousand fifteen ok with you?
Emma: I’m going to bed.
Shane: Sexy-
Emma: (sternly) No.
Shane: Not sexy-
Emma: Correct.

And there, we have the modern family… at leisure.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Working in the front room, I need a drink. Maybe Emma and Lily would like a drink too - and I can catch-up on the Ellie situation.

Approaching the middle room, muffled voices become more clear.

Emma: …got to ask yourself why this happens – what are they after.
Lily: You’re right – they either want to fuck me or they want to cure me.
Emma and Lily: (wine-assisted howls of laughter)
Shane: (halts in his tracks)
Emma: What about Simon?
Lily: Ha! He thought he’d cure me by fu-
Shane: (thinks) Whoaaaaaaaaaa! (recoils, rotates, returns to his work)

I get back to working. Wanting to undo my recent over-hearing, I notice that my typing is quicker than usual. What I absolutely do not think – not at all, not even a tiny bit – is… 'Well, actually, I can see some logic to the Simon position’. That’s not what I think, not even for a second.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Doing a favour for Emma’s mum, who had been organising a conference for the National Women’s Register, I agreed to collect and deliver the male professor from the station.

In the car:

Professor: So you’re at the conference too, are you?
Shane: No - no direct connection with the conference. Just ferrying you as a favour to my mother-in-law – an act of charity, really.
Professor: Oh wow, thank you - you’re a star.
Shane: (it being a Sunday morning) Yes. I am.
Professor: (slightly startled laughter)
Shane: She attempted to sell the idea of my collecting you, by mentioning that I’d probably find you interesting, and that we could have a fascinating intellectual conversation about sport and culture and so on, whilst en route.
Professor: (flattered) Oh wow – I’m not sure that I’ve been sold quite like that before.
Shane: Don’t worry - you’ve no need to perform. I’m not sure that I’m up to intellectual chit-chat right now – it being Sunday morning.
Professor: Mm.
Shane: (pause) So what were you doing in London?
Professor: Well! Last night I was at an amazing event, really – ‘cage-fighting’ – have you heard of it?
Shane: I think I’ve glanced over references to it or pictures of it - reminded me of underground fighting – street-fighting, that sort of thing – not really my thing.
Professor: No, absolutely. It did have a slightly underground feel – it’ll be the end of it if it becomes mainstream.
Shane: Where was it?
Professor: Wemblĕy Arĕna.
Shane: How many tickets were sold?
Professor: Six thousand!
Shane: Not so underground, then.
Professor: Well! I got a call from Newsnight, y’ see, they wanted me to come along and just say what I thought. It was fascinating. They wanted me to talk quite dispassionately with the great din of a fight – in a cage! - going on behind me. I ended up talking with my arms and sounding like a sports commentator – quite animated, y’ know.
Shane: Not so dispassionate, then
Professor: No – it wasn’t possible.
Shane: More of that this afternoon, y’ think?
Professor: (amused) Hmm, a very different kind of audience, I imagine.
Shane: Though no less scary?
Professor: Oh, I don’t know.

Soon after, we pulled into the conference car park. A large banner read ‘Linking Lively-Minded Women’. We walked into the venue. About to leave the professor with his main host, a middle-aged woman came running over to us… ‘Some young men in very short shorts are in the restaurant helping themselves to our food’ she said. The host rolled her eyes. The professor smiled. I smiled.

Shane: And on that note, I’ll wish you good luck.
Professor: Won’t you stay for lunch?
Shane: (whispered) Between young men in very short shorts and Lively-Minded Women Wot Lunch, I’m not sure that this is going to be my kind of gig – I'm sure you'll be ok.
Professor: Ah well, thanks anyway.

As I drove away, I considered the peculiarly incongruous worlds that I’d just had brief glimpses of. Perhaps the professor would suggest that the Lively-Minded Women join him for his next cage-fighting trip - quid pro quo and all that. Though somehow, I doubted it.

Monday, July 09, 2007


On Saturday, Ken met Ellie. Ellie met Ken. They met. Each other.

On the phone:

Shane: So, tell me what happened.
Ken: Hmm, where to begin –
Shane: (quietly) Oh-
Ken: We met in the centre of MK, to get lunch at Waga’s
Shane: Good - jealous already.
Ken: Yeah, it was good actually. I was just locking the car on the boulevard - outside the shops - when she came over and prodded me – she’d seen me and the green Beetle on Facebook.
Shane: She ‘prodded’ you – bit intimate for a first meeting isn’t it?
Ken: It meant that the first words I spoke to her face-to-face – or back-to-face – were ‘what the fuck’.
Shane: (amused) Classy.
Ken: Yeah. We small-talked our way into eating and drinking and left after about… an hour and a half.
Shane: Relaxed throughout?
Ken: Yeah, definitely. It was a bit odd – I made a joke about being a teenager when I last went on a blind date – bit risky, but I got away with it – she just laughed and started bombarding me about real dates and relationships, and how I got to be doing what I’m doing. (pause) In fact, for a while, she reminded me of you.
Shane: (pause) Laughter, blind dates and relationship talk, and she reminded you of… me.
Ken: She asked a lot of questions.
Shane: Ah. Right.
Ken: Mm. I was selective. She seemed to delight at my various relationship debacles.
Shane: As would we all, Kenneth.
Ken: Mm, but I didn’t hammer home the ‘don’t do distant relationships’ point, though I said enough to suggest the once burned et cetera et cetera thing.
Shane: Mm.
Ken: Seemed appropriate.
Shane: Yeah – definitely, I’m sure you did good. (pause) Did, er… do you think that she might have –
Ken: I wondered what she was making of me – but I made such an arse of myself – bit too self-deprecating - that I assumed she thought I was alright, but a bit of an arse.
Shane: ‘Oaf’.
Ken: If you like.
Shane: Sounds like it was good though.
Ken: It was.
Shane: Good.
Ken: Then we went back to mine – or my parents’ –
Shane: Whoaaaaa –
Ken: She said she felt tipsy after sharing the wine –
Shane: And you took that to be ‘Green light – let’s get dirty’ – you whorey Ken!
Ken: (amused) I was doing her a favour – she couldn’t drive back.
Shane: (squirming) Urrrrrgggghhh.
Ken: It was quite dirty, actually - dirtier than I imagined it would be.
Shane: Oh fucking hell – I wasn’t… you weren’t… I wasn’t after that kind of - oh Jesus - ‘intervention’… I thought you were just gonna wax lyrical and talk to her –
Ken: We walked the dogs out across the fields and round the lake – it was filthy.
Shane: (silent)
Ken: Walked for just over an hour, got back to the house, hosed down the dogs and wellies, and we… we… what did we do, Shane? We…
Shane: Very funny.
Ken: We had mad passionate sex all over the hou-
Shane: Noooooooo-.
Ken: (pause) No, actually, we didn’t.
Shane: Oh.
Ken: You shouldn’t be so quick to assume. If she’d have made any move I’d have probably gone along with it, but as it was it was just, y’ know, it was good, but it wouldn’t have felt right to… try anything.
Shane: Saint Kenneth?
Ken: (amused) Perhaps.
Shane: So you just walked dogs.
Ken: Yeah, and showed her the house, then we sat on the first floor decking –
Shane: ‘Balcony’.
Ken: - under the shade, and drank coffee as it began to rain. We were there for close to two hours. Just talking – mostly her – it was good. (pause) Mind, I couldn’t do that sort of thing every Saturday – far too big a ‘falling in love’ chasm to be stumbling into. She is gorgeous, and a bit witty and clever –
Shane: Like wot we like.
Ken: Just like wot we like.
Shane: Mm. (pause) Perversely, quite perversely, Kenneth, you describe one of the most romantic scenarios that I’ve heard in ages.
Ken: Mm. I have to confess, I did think about inviting her to stay - but I didn’t! Took her back to her car at half seven, said goodbye and good luck. Saturday over.
Shane: Will you be talking to Lily?
Ken: Reporting back, you mean?
Shane: You shame us.
Ken: I sent her a short email earlier – just said I don’t think you’ve got too much to worry about. I thought Ellie seemed to have her head screwed on. I also got the feeling that she knows that the Turkish thing has got a fairly short shelf-life.
Shane: Top man, Kenneth. If you’re right that counts as a star performance.
Ken: Mm.
Shane: What?
Ken: What?
Shane: You sound a bit flat.
Ken: Oh. Just... worn out.
Shane: (pause) Kenneth?
Ken: Nothing happened – honest.
Shane: Mm, good boy.
Ken: (pause) Except -
Shane: ‘Except!’ ‘Except!’ What is this ‘except’ of which you speak? I was quite happy with ‘Nothing happened’.
Ken: (silent)
Shane: Well?
Ken: Well, it was when I dropped her off. (pause) There was like a moment of quiet awkwardness as I – as we – said, y’ know, ‘goodbye’. And er, she just leaned across, patted my leg and sort of gave me a peck.
Shane: (pause) Maybe best not read too much into that?
Ken: Mm, maybe. (pause) But it was while I was facing her, so it was… on the lips sort of thing, and… it seemed longer than a ‘peck’ peck.
Shane: ‘Peck’ peck?
Ken: It seemed more of a ‘kiss’… peck.
Shane: (pause) Innocent affection and all that – wouldn’t give it much more –
Ken: And she closed her eyes and… it’ll sound a bit strange –
Shane: What?
Ken: Well, she seemed to, er… ‘make a bit of a noise’.
Shane: What?!
Ken: A kind of… I thought it was… it sounded like a quiet groan – or ‘moan’.
Shane: Fucking hell, Kenneth! What happened to ‘nothing happened’?
Ken: I might be completely wrong, but for a split-second I think we both thought that we were gonna snog.
Shane: But you didn’t?
Ken: (pause) No, we didn’t. (pause) Maybe I – we – should have.

Presently, Ellie is en route to Turkey. Ken is in London.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


At work, I hear a lot about ‘risk-taking’. Version 1: the stupid decisions that youngsters make that lead to their imprisonment. Version 2: those initiatives that seek to encourage dull-witted ‘professionals’ to think and behave differently.

Shane: Lily said you talked at the weekend.
Ken: Weekend? Ye-es… Oh yes – Lily – weekend – yes, we did talk – about her sister and stuff – she seemed cool.
Shane: Yeah, she is. I don’t know her sister so well.
Ken: Ellie?
Shane: Mm.
Ken: She’s cool too.
Shane: Mm-hm?
Ken: (pause) What?
Shane: You talked to Ellie? Like you said you would?
Ken: Yeah, Lily fixed it up, actually no – we fixed it up - my plan, she went along with it… not that I’d be possessive about that sort of thing you understand.
Shane: No, of course not. (pause) So, Ellie – how was she, what impact did you have, is she processing the whole Turkish lover thing with a bit of a… with a dose of reality now?
Ken: Mm, hard to say really. On the whole, I’d say… I had no significant impact - she still thinks she’s in love and that the Turk is her knight in sun-lotioning armour.
Shane: (head-shakingly) So no impact at all then?
Ken: I wouldn’t put it quite like that.
Shane: (silent)
Ken: (lightly clears throat)
Shane: Okay, no need for the ‘man of mystery’ routine – what happened, what did you talk about, did you in any way refer to her having her head in the clouds, taking advantage of her mother and not really playing the part of ‘responsible mother’ so well?
Ken: (pause) Hard day at the office?
Shane: Kenneth.
Ken: I told her it’d be a highly informal chat – which it was - very loose references to relationships research stuff –
Shane: Mm-hm.
Ken: - and so I asked a few questions and she did the starry-eyed thing –
Shane: (shaking head, quietly) Not good.
Ken: Ah! But! Then, I probed the closer-to-home stuff – her kid, earning a living, the fundamentals – she became more vague - as Lily predicted on Saturday.
Shane: (pause) Okay-. It’s a partial commentary. And?
Ken: My assessment… is… that Ellie is… - wait for it - … she is… bored.
Shane: (uninspired) And lonely?
Ken: Mm, not necessarily, but it is straight forward – work is dull, she’s feeling like her life is not her own, but then she feels attractive and youthful in the presence of lover-boy – it’s, y’ know, straight forward.
Shane: Ri-ight, so what do you suggest?
Ken: I have a plan – it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a plan nonetheless.
Shane: (pause) More forthcoming, Kenneth, more forthcoming.
Ken: She’s very fit, y’ know – have you ever met her?
Shane: Er, briefly, quite a while ago – she was harassed and in a hurry – I remember a streak of blonde hair and er-... - hold on a minute – how do you know she’s ‘fit’? I presume we’re talking ‘good-looking’?
Ken: Very good-looking actually – in fact, this holiday romance has done wonders for -… (amused) whoops! Sorry – wrong thing to say.
Shane: ‘Fit’?
Ken: After we talked, I emailed a bit of background on my research – the real stuff – an old document, though she wouldn’t know - and a few references. Not long after that, she Facebooked me!
Shane: Uh?
Ken: We are now ‘friends’.
Shane: Och. You as well -
Ken: Emma’s on Facebook – why aren’t you?
Shane: I haven’t got the time, nor the desire. I’m sure your Facebook friendship is all very sweet, but I’m not sure how useful it is.
Ken: (pause) I’m going to meet her.
Shane: Eh?
Ken: Ellie – I’m going to meet her.
Shane: When?
Ken: (pause) Saturday.
Shane: (surprised) That sounds… inconvenient.
Ken: Far from it. She’s staying with friends near Milton Keynes over the weekend - before pissing off from Luton to Turkey again, on Monday.
Shane: That’s, er -
Ken: The kid is with his Dad over the weekend – you know how these things work.
Shane: Ye-es.
Ken: I’m quite looking forward to it really.
Shane: (a bit perplexed) I’m… a bit perplexed. You’d never heard of her until, like, five minutes ago, and now you’re meeting up at the weekend?
Ken: It’s not that odd – she’d mentioned that she’d be at a loose end for much of Saturday – her friends are working, I’ll be based at my folks’ house - looking after the dogs. It’ll be all very casual.
Shane: (pause) You’re flirting with her?
Ken: (silently smiling) Outrageously so, Shane.
Shane: Is that it?
Ken: (amused) Who knows.
Shane: Do not upset her – I don’t want to incur the wrath of her sister or mother.
Ken: Trust me – I know what I’m doing.
Shane: (reluctantly) So what has Saturday got in store for you – both – then?
Ken: I don’t know yet. Like I said, the plan is a bit rough around the edges – but I’m working on it. (pause) Any ideas?
Shane: (pause) No. This is your… doing.

Though I can’t quite put my finger on it, I sense risk-taking.

I will talk to Ken on Sunday evening.