Dialect X/Lake 32 – May 2021

Back to the Lake

A lot has happened since I started my first month as resident writer, January 2021 didn’t turn out anything like I was expecting. I couldn’t visit Lake 32 due to COVID restrictions – although this did trigger a more interesting approach for my first submission – and I had to deal with an unexpected medical complication.

Over Christmas 2020 I had noticed a lump forming on my left temple. A biopsy early in January ultimately revealed not a cyst, but a recurrence of the low-grade Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma I was first diagnosed with back in 2017. Fortunately, a PET scan in early January showed a single, localised area instead of something more widespread. A course of RT during February soon got rid of it, leaving me tired… and slightly balder.

Anyway, with all that behind me, it’s time to get back in the saddle and start working on ideas for May. Having read the pieces Hannah, Alun and Jacqui have produced, I have a lot to live up to.

My January piece involved people prevented by COVID from getting to the lake. My piece for May (again a radio play) will be about people who are obliged to go there when they don’t want to be: Ali and Jack come to the Lake to scatter their (estranged) late father’s ashes and film the process for relatives unable to be there due to ongoing COVID restrictions.

I have plenty of ideas about how the story will proceed, but before I start writing, I need to get the characters clear in my mind, and find out as much about them as possible. Who are they? What makes them tick? What do they fear, what do they want.

Vulpes, Vulpes #2

After brainstorming my Urban Fox story over the weekend, I now have a treatment I am very happy with. I plan to submit it to The Alpine Fellowship competition as it is a very good fit for this year’s theme Untamed: On Wilderness and Civilization.

Helen runs a support group for people suffering from Alepouphobia, the irrational fear of Foxes (a word I had to invent). She introduces three new members – Joe, Frank and Burney – encouraging them to open up, to share their stories of their encounters with Urban Foxes.

  • For as long as Joe can remember, he has dreamt of moving from the dull countryside to the big bad city, with all its glamorous opportunities. But a recent encounter with an Urban fox has left him confused, troubled, his work suffering. Has he truly left the countryside behind him? Can they help him overcome his fears and build a life for himself in the city?
  • Frank grew up in the city. He hates foxes and always has, blaming one for the untimely death of his sister. For years he has aspired to hunt them down, destroy them. He fantasises about the the well born, sitting on horseback, riding to hounds. But after having finally (if accidentally) killed a fox, he has found only depression. What’s wrong with him? What truths could he be hiding about his sister’s death?
  • Burney is a lost soul. Job after job: cleaning, security work, begging when necessary. Living from hand to mouth, sleeping rough. But ever since finding a fox high in the office block he was supposed to be cleaning, Burney is a changed man, spending his days handing out leaflets and promoting his new Political party: Vote Fox. Creatures as resourceful as these, surely they should get their chance to be in charge, to run things?

With Helen’s guidance, can they help each other recognise what their true issues are and come up with ways to deal with them?

Instead of blaming Urban Foxes for being in the wrong place, perhaps their real problems stem from their own lack of contact with their roots, with the wildness from which – ultimately – we all come.

The Radiotherapy Bell

I rang a bell today. Not just any old bell, but the Radiotherapy bell inside the Oncology Department at Cheltenham General Hospital.

You ring the bell as you leave after your last session of Radiotherapy, which for me was today. Things are looking good, the lump in my temple all but vanished and no rash/tenderness (yet). I spotted it back in December, but had to wait over Christmas for a biopsy and PET scan to confirm what (and how widespread) the beast was: it turned out to be a recurrence of the Follicular Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma) I had had back in 2017, fortunately low grade and localised to a small enough area to be treatable with Radiotherapy.

I thought I might be embarrassed to do it – I have at times a very British disinclination to make a fuss – but it turns out the staff all gather round to watch you do it, a rather touching moment. I suspect they would have felt annoyed if I had chickened out. From their smiles and applause it was as though I had made their day – I know they had made mine. Strange the rituals humans dream up, even in the most technical and scientific of environments. Perhaps the more serious the technology, the more important the rituals become?

The ‘Something Purple’ sessions

Something Purple within editing tool Garage Band

My first piece written for the Dialect/Lake 32 Writers Residency has now been recorded and published online, a radio play entitled Something Purple.

My original ideas for my residency were all set in and around the water park. I planned to use actors as well as the people who work and play in Lake 32, with the natural ambient sounds of the lake and surroundings as a backdrop.

And then lockdown happened. At a stroke, all my plans had to be cancelled/postponed and I had to return to the drawing board. Which in hindsight proved to be a good thing. The trouble with first ideas as that they can often be very obvious, the things that might have occurred to everybody else. Now, as I couldn’t (technically) ask actors to go to the lake because of Lockdown, I decided to make Lockdown the centre of the story: to have two characters – Carl and his Dad – desperate to get to the lake but stuck indoors, talking over Zoom. Dad, divorced from Carl’s mum, keen to cheer his son up. The inspiration also came partly from watching Michael Sheen and David Tennant in ‘Staged’.

I had been speaking to Cirencester Theatre Company about recording another of my scripts and they were the first people I spoke to about recording Something Purple. We recorded the play on Sunday 31st January 2021. There were issues with microphone noise, but as the point was to portray an authentic Zoom call, we worked around them where possible.

One of the most revealing things about recording your own audio pieces, is that it’s the best way to learn where you over-write. After editing the script several times, it was only when editing the final recording that I really grasped how many lines didn’t actually need to be there.

Many thanks to the Cirencester Theatre Company, Adrian McPherson and Michael Iredale for acting in it and Caroline Jalilli for recording & editing it.

Something Purple for Dialect

My first submission to Dialect has now been handed over, a 20 minute radio script called ‘Something Purple’.

All of my original ideas for the project were set in and around the Lake and involved recording actors on site, using the natural, ambient sounds of the lake and its occupants as a background.

Unfortunately, Lockdown 3 made this impossible and forced a major rethink. In a way it has proved an advantage, requiring me to think outside the box and come up with a new idea to suit the new circumstances: sometimes the first ideas you have about a topic can be very obvious.

So, instead of a story about people interacting with each other and the Lake, my first piece ‘Something Purple’ is about two people coming to terms with not being able to get to the Lake at all.

Lockdown 3 has just been announced and teenager Carl is phoned by his Dad over Zoom. Carl is a very keen sailor and was due to sit a major practical exam on the Lake, but this has now had to be postponed, leaving him (in typical teenage style) angry and upset. Dad is calling to cheer his son up, offer support and (mostly useless) suggestions. Carl’s parents have divorced some time before and Carl’s mother has a new partner Paul, with whom Carl (and his Dad) often don’t see eye to eye. Over the course of the conversation, as Carl can no longer get to the Lake, Dad tries to cheer him up, by bringing the Lake – or clips of it – to him. Carl reveals an up-and-coming trip which not only makes Dad reassess what he thinks of Paul, but forces him to accept that he may no longer be the main man in Carl’s life.

I have used Carl and his dad before, in a still-to-be recorded script ‘Ten Famous People From Swindon’, in which Dad drives Carl back to his place in Swindon for the weekend. It’s a road movie, showing Carl and his Dad reconnecting and trying to adjust to their separate lives.

Snow at the Lake

I decided to walk down the Lake on Sunday morning, as I’m not keen on cycling or driving over fresh snow. It took just under an hour to get to Lake 32 down the Quiet Lane through Shorncote.

The Lake was silent and almost deserted, a couple of people using the facilities and one person working. Another day suited more for capturing images rather than recording sound. Although I do love photographing in snow, especially somewhere like the Lake, filled with weatherbeaten objects such as the yachts and kayaks. I love the contrast between the freeform and the regular, between the natural outlines of fresh snow against the artificial and usually well-worn. The snow always seems to reminding you who’s really in charge.

Dialect X/Waterland 2

Sunday, 10th January

Swans (3 Different Ones)

At the lake for more recording, a cold but beautifully clear day. The sun bright, with enough of a haze to make your photographs look extra special. Due to the new Lockdown I was the only person there, apart from a couple of dog walkers.

The wind was low enough to avoid microphone noise, but too low to generate any of the cable rattling that sounds quite sinister on playback, when you have no context and have to imagine what it is. Recorded some miscellaneous birds and some fighting moor hens. Even on a quiet Sunday morning regular car and aeroplane noise.

Three swans passed, one after the other. The first gliding serenely, the second in great pulses of effort, as though it were doing the breast stroke, the third coughing.

Dialect X/Waterland 1

3rd January 2021

An attempt at a panorama shot of Waterland

My first official visit to Lake 32/Waterland yesterday as Writer in Residence for January. A 15 minute cycle from home down the Quiet Lane, even quieter now it’s been sealed off with concrete blocks at both ends.

The threatened rain didn’t appear and I had the place almost to myself as I missed the early rush of outdoor swimmers when the centre opened at 8am. So, a first reconnaissance and a chance to work on some character and story ideas in situ. I walked around the entire lake recording what I could (despite a fair amount of wind noise), a few coots, some intriguing water sounds and the oddly sinister rattle of cables against yacht masts.

Everywhere had closed by the time I finished my circuit so I had the added fun of hauling my bike over the locked gate at Cotswold Water Park, my own fault for not checking the times before I set off.

Most of the recordings pretty much useless due to wind noise, so my first task is to buy get a proper ‘dead cat’ wind shield for recording outside.

Paper Human in Brighton

A day for good news, an opportunity I’ve waiting to hear about since 20th November: my 1 hour stage play ‘Paper Human’ has made the shortlist of 6 for Unmasked Theatre’s Brighton Scratch Night.

An extract from it will be performed at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton on 21st January 2021 and (if the Gods are smiling) potentially selected for a full production at the Brighton Fringe 2021.

After I had made the long list last week, I spoke to Luke Ofield of Unmasked who was full of enthusiasm for the script, so it’s something of a relief to finally hear I made the short list.