Issue #6 November 8th - 14th 2002
They don't give medals
Postcards from a city by the sea
The Myth Of Manchester United
Trolls and elves and being childish
They don't give medals (part 1)
Looking at him, nobody would suspect a thing.
He says the reasons for this are obvious. If he could have been identified, he would have been no use.
It is impossible to guess his age. Physically, he could be in his late thirties, but the stories he tells would make him older. Much older. His fingers twitch like those of a chain smoker. He shifts position in the chair constantly. The eyes - darting around him as if watching imaginary flies -
He insisted on moving the chair. He says he won't sit with his back to the door.
Classic paranoid symptoms. This would be a simple diagnosis, under other circumstances - but he has begged me to keep an open mind. And I reply, in return, that it is the job of any therapist to keep an open mind - it isn't true, but it seems to reassure him. He needs reassurance.
Of course, that is the least of his worries. He has come to me because he feels he needs protection. He tells me his life is in danger, and I believe him, although perhaps he misjudges the source of the threat.
It is important that I believe him. He must have told this story before and been greeted with derision, laughter or - even worse - the sympathy one offers to the most unhappy souls.
Everybody that meets him must think he is insane. After all, when someone tells you they used to be a super hero, what else is there to think?
He repeats the question:
'Did you ever hear of Roach Man?' and he leaves the chair for the fourth time in a minute. The blind clatters against the window as he checks the Outside World. He spends several seconds peering through the gaps in the steel, but seems to see nothing that worries him unduly and returns to his seat.
'You were roach man?'
'No. I wasn't. Nobody was. That is, he wasn't real. He was a character, in a comic strip. The first recorded Radiation Mutant to make it into popular culture'
He seems to be waiting for me to say something, to challenge his version of events, perhaps. I allow him to continue:
'Somebody must have tipped off the author to what was happening. He created this character, some crap about a man, a split atom and a cockroach - completely different from how it really was, but it was too close for some. Roach Man existed for two issues, and cost the author his life - A terrible comic. I don't recommend you read it'
He pauses, and walks to the door, tensing himself against the handle until he is satisfied that the lock is solid, then he steps quickly away from the door and walks around the room, scrutinising our surroundings as he speaks:
'Not that you could read it. Every copy was destroyed. It- It didn't do to allow the public to get ideas. But ideas, they grow. They develop lives of their own, and it was too late. Radiation, suddenly, was making super-people. In popular culture at least.'
'In reality, they were mostly failures. Worse, even, than the Genetics. All it did was make people crazy. Some of them killed the researchers. Some of them even killed the - some of them killed our employers. Pretty soon, experiments with radiation were stopped.'
'A couple of the mutants managed to escape the authorities, but they didn't live for long. Most of them couldn't find anywhere to live, or anything to eat. Suddenly, having two heads and a tail didn't seem so great when people spat at them in the street. Fifty years earlier, a freak show would have taken them'
Finally, he slumps into the chair. I offer him a cigarette, but he refuses, and he says he'd rather I didn't smoke either. I consider telling him that this is my organisation and I can do what I want, but he interrupts my thoughts, leaning towards me:
'Fifty years earlier, a freak show would have taken them. But these were more enlightened times. They were left to the goodwill of society'
'And they died. Of course'
I am beginning to regret asking him to tell me everything, from the beginning. I had hoped the beginning would be briefer than this. I suppose, after all this time in this job, I should know better. Beginnings are seldom so easily dismissed.
He tells me that, at first, people would volunteer for the trials. Mostly people involved with the armed services, of course, those that could be trusted to remain discreet. Until the changes began, that was. When you have an extra eyeball in the middle of your forehead, being subtle about it isn't really an option.
I've had enough for one day. I show him where he can sleep, and eat, and wash, and as I leave the building, I can hear him testing the door, again and again,
muttering to himself about plastic explosive. No hero deserves to be treated in such a way. And yet, I suspect, he hasn't seen such kindness in years. I allow my attention to drift to my feet, as they crunch the gravel that leads to my car, and I find myself contemplating how fine it is to have just two of them.
to be continued...
A reason to be cheerful on a grey sunday night
It was a dreary grey Sunday night sometime in March. I was visiting my mum and dad, and would be returning home the next day. I hate the time before you say goodbye. Especially when saying goodbye means it is the end of a holiday and you'll be thrown back in the world of work. Especially when you know you aren't going to see the people you are saying goodbye to for quite a while.
I flicked onto BBC2 and was faced with a man called Dave Gorman. He began his story... he used slides and graphs to illustrate his points...this was serious stuff. I couldn't keep a straight face for a second.
Dave explained to the audience that his flatmate Danny Wallace had not believed him when he claimed that there must be "loads" of Dave Gormans and so to prove to him that indeed there were bet had been made:
The show "reasons to be cheerful" in which Dave explains the lyrics to the song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads was also the result of a £10 pub bet. After another night he woke up with a beer mat saying: "Do a show that will make the world a better place" so he did and the result was the show "a better world". Dave's latest project "Dave Gorman's Important Astrology Experiment" was recently screened on BBC2. He selflessly let a camera crew film his every move to answer the question, does astrology make you happier?
The man is insane... he is also one of my all time heroes and I was over the moon when he agreed to do this interview.
If anybody reading this hasn't heard of you, what do you consider the first thing that they should be told about you?
Nothing. It's genuinely of no consequence whether or not they've heard of me.
A lot of your shows seem to come about after nights in the pub, or bets, or both. It seems to me that a lot of people would just forget these things when faced with cold light of day. What makes you act upon these ideas the next day?
I say I'm very inquisitive. My friends say I'm autistic. The thing is, there are lots of small adventures that last a day and because they don't end up becoming a stage show, or a book or whatever, nobody knows anything about them. Not everything grabs my imagination in the same way, but when things do, it ends up being what I make shows about.
Do you think that acting upon these ideas makes you happier, and should others do the same?
A lot of people have said there's a kind of vicarious pleasure in reading our book or whatever. They want to be able to get on a train at a moments notice, but can't because they have spouse/children/job/mortgage and so on. But it's also true that life isn't always pleasant. Being in a tornado in New York was truly frightening not something I'd recommend.
On stage you appear to be very enthusiastic about each challenge you set yourself. Is this something that you have had to amplify for the performances, or do you genuinely have that much enthusiasm for the things you do?
Like I said before, I end up making stage shows about things that grab my imagination. So that means there's a natural enthusiasm for the subject. Also, I really *enjoy* telling people the stories. There are loads of moments when I'm on stage thinking, "oo, I love doing this bit"!
Was the Dave Gorman search purely self motivated, or did anyone help you keep you motivated to achieve your goal?
The whole story; how it happened, why it happened, how it became something else, how it took over my life and the life of my then flatmate and all that, is all explained in the book. It took me and Dan nearly 400 pages to explain it then and it would take the same amount of time to explain it now.
Was there any point in the search that you thought perhaps you weren't going to find one Dave Gorman for every card in the pack? If so how and why did you keep going?
The thought never really crossed my mind. The only circumstances in which I would have stopped would have been Danny accepting that I was right and he was wrong. He's not that kind of man.
The Important Astrology Experiment, was done specifically for a television performance. Did this make this easier or harder to achieve the same level of focussed dedication as for some of the projects done independently?
It's really the same. We worked every day for 40 days. Every day we read 20 horoscopes and every day I followed every possible instruction contained therein. And we had to film it while it happened. It's an odd process because at the front end it's like making a very intense documentary and then we spend a lot of time editing that footage down in to tiny snippets, just as much as is needed to tell the story and then we turn it all in to a studio based show. It's a weird mix of genres. It's a very intense way to make television. I'm used to having a project take over my life, I guess with making something for TV we need to find a crew of people who will indulge me and let it take over their lives too.
Who would you say was your biggest hero? Who do you admire? And who has most influenced you?
I admire loads of people. Ian Dury is an incredible man. As he approached 40 years of age, a man who was physically disabled sat at number one in the charts. That wouldn't happen in today's world. There are hundreds of comedians I've been influenced by... actually, I prefer the word "inspired". "influence" suggests that you want to be like them. All the people I really admire have done their own kind of thing... I hope in some small way I've done something that's "mine" also.
Do you believe you can achieve anything if you try or are there some things which should remain eternal dreams?
Well you might as well try and find out.
You are currently doing a lot of live dates, but what other projects are you working on or thinking about for the future?
I don't know. I'm supposed to be writing a novel. Slow progress. Generally, I try not to discuss projects before they actually exist. I get hundreds of e-mails a day from people many of them want to "help with my next adventure". But I make shows about things I get up to... I like it when they're "one man's journey" not "one man and a thousand helpers".
And finally is there any other question you would like to answer?
This one is just dandy.
Postcards from a city by the sea
Thessaloniki, October 26th, 2002
You asked where I live...
Thessaloniki is a city in northern Greece, and if Athens is London, then it is Edinburgh... sort of. (Maybe it's Glasgow and more probably a combination.) It is quite big (about 1,000,000 people) but usually it acts like a small town. It is self-indulgent if not obsessed and you're bound to bump into people you know almost everywhere.
Love and kisses,
Thessaloniki, October 31st, 2002
I used to think I could never live in a city that's not by the sea. I used to think I could never live without the sensation that the sea is nearby, just down the street, round the next corner.
If you come from here, the sea is your point of reference. Where is East, and where is West, I asked when I was six or so and instead of the sun I was shown the sea; the sea is always South, I was told. Facing the sea, your left hand points East. The North is approximately where the mountain is. And what remains is West. It was easy and it made sense; so much sense, actually, that fourteen years later in other seaside towns I have to remind myself south isn't always where the sea is.
I used to think I would feel trapped without it in sight. There's something in the way it stretches - magical, majestic, bigger than anything we can ever be - that sets you free to dream. Maybe it is that it stretches between this place and other places. It separates us from them and yet we can travel on it. We can cross the distance and visit any seaside place in the world.
A shame Birmingham's not by the sea...
Love and kisses,
Thessaloniki, November 2nd, 2002
At this time of year the city looks like it's in a fairy tale. Or maybe a film. The sea helps: it gives the city the fog and reflects its lights. Also, it glitters in the dark. The fog makes everything dump and blurry and the air colder on your skin that in actually is. Also, it conceals any kind of view there might have been. Looking away from the city towards the sea you may as well believe the world ends there, a few hundred metres off the coast. Or a few hundred feet. Whatever.
The film festival is fast approaching. In six days from now we'll be able to sit in lovely - unused for the rest of the year - buildings in a pier in the port; we'll spend ten days watching filmds from all over the world. It's as exciting as it sounds.
I know you wish you were here. I do too.
Love and kisses,
The Myth Of Manchester United
There are many myths and legends eschewed upon the ragged tablecloth of history. The legend of King Arthur, the prophecies of Nostradamus, the shroud of Turin. As we hurtle headlong through the twenty first century, I want to dispel at least one myth- the myth of Manchester United.
History is a funny thing. People forget it really quickly, unless it happens to be the Queens birthday or an attack on the United States of America. On other matters though, history becomes, well, history. Manchester United football club suffer in much the same way. They are the richest club in the world, yes. They have the biggest fan base in the world, yes. However, anyone who supports them seems to be fighting against the perpetual tide of non-believers, cynics, sceptics, and weapons of envy.
They tell you anyone who supports Manchester United football club is a gold digger, a glory hunter. Try telling this to my granddad, who has supported them all of his 72 years. And my dad too, who has supported them all of his 49 years. And try telling this to me, who was born in the year that they were relegated, yes RELEGATED, from the old Division One. The day is etched in my family's history, drilled into me by my forefathers.
For romantic reasons, people assume it was Dennis Law (Manchester United icon who absconded for a season to Manchester City) with a back heel, 3 minutes from time, in the Manchester derby, that sent Manchester United down that season. People, of course, are wrong. It was actually Wolverhampton Wanderers winning their last match that sealed the nail on a particularly unhealthy coffin. The next year, relegated to the lower division, people flocked to see them. They still had the biggest average home crowds in the country, outshining Liverpool's average home gate by about 9,000. Indeed, in the last 40 years, there was only one season when Manchester United football club didn't record the highest average home crowd in England. That solitary season, incidentally, was the season that the ground was being redeveloped so the ground could only hold 39,000. Liverpool's average home crowd that season beat it by about 500 or so.
So what is the problem that people have with Manchester United? Popularity, maybe, greatness, definitely. The need to drag people down is a peculiarly British disease. It can't be success on the field, because from 1970 to 1991, they won a grand total of 4 trophies. But still the enigma remained. Still people from all over the globe flocked to see them. It is only in the last 10 years, under the right guidance, that Manchester United football club have achieved any iota of the success that there vast following merits.
I remember growing up the eighties, on a council estate surrounded by other council estates, being taken to Old Trafford by my father, and seeing us lose regularly. The thing is, it didn't matter, it doesn't matter. It was, and is, just the fact that I am part of something, an exclusive club whose motives and reasons are understood only by those entirely involved and sucked in by it.
Sure, the boardroom, the chairman, and their money making machine suck, but then we all know that. That doesn't change a thing, we are still bound up in the indefinable, inexplicable 'something' that no one else can understand. Put us in the lower leagues and it won't change a thing. I can guarantee Old Trafford would still be a sell-out every week. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe our loyalty if frowned upon by other supporters because they know that they will never even remotely get near the kind of loyalty Manchester United football club inspire in all who follow them.
Before anybody writes in with tales of the loyal Geordies, go and ask a Newcastle United fan where THERE supporters were when they languished in the lower leagues? 12,000 was a regular occurrence at ST James Park. Liverpool, still the most successful side in the history of the modern game, initially talked about building a new ground that held 70,000. They soon changed this plan to a more accommodating 55,000. The fact is, though they try, they will never attain the level of support their neighbours down the East Lancs Road possess. This isn't mere hyperbole, this isn't myth, this is a fact.
So there are many myths about Manchester United to dispel, but many also to re-correct, and many more, if you are a Manchester United supporter, to wallow in. Next week, we play our city neighbours, who keep telling all and sundry that they are 'big' club. Maybe they are. But what they aren't and what no other club is, despite frantic efforts to the contrary, is Manchester United football club.
Trolls and elves and being childish or Yet another film review
Troll /troul/ n. (in Scandinavian myths) an imaginary being that looks like an ugly person and may be either very big and evil or very small, friendly and full of tricks.*
The trolls in Olli Saarela's latest film, 'Rolli ja metsanhenki' ('Rolli and the Woods Sprite') are a mixture of both. They make endless attempts at being hostile and scary, but it's quite a difficult task when you're pot-bellied, generally clumsy and covered with fur. Their world map had been eaten by a horse, so how they found the Elvish Island remains a mystery. Having got there, though, they intend to stay, showing no consideration for the first inhabitants of the place.
The elves, on the other hand, are naive, kind-hearted creatures, that long for peace. To avoid open conflict they let the trolls occupy their village and move out of the forest. Milli, a brave elf-girl can't understand why they can't all live together, and decides to talk some sense into trolls' empty heads.
Unfortunately, they don't seem to want to listen to her. Instead, they take great pleasure in chasing her into the outskirts of the village. She hides in a small hut and literally bumps into Rolli, a trollish lazybones, who overslept as usual.
'Aaah, you're so pretty! Were you born like that or did you have an accident?' he asks, marking the start of a very rough friendship.
In the meantime the old troll chief concludes his time on Earth is done, leaves the tribe and turns into a turkey. A democratic poll to choose a new leader is sabotaged by Iso ('Big One'), who proceeds to foist a peculiar food-orientated dictatorship over his folk. All this mumbo-jumbo is observed by The Scales Master (or vaakamestari - isn't Finnish fab?), who spends his time weighing Good and Evil and these days his frown is getting deeper and deeper, for when mischief outweighs kindness, the island will plunge into infinite shadow.
'Yes, yes, that's all very well,' you'll say, 'but why would I want to devote my time and money to watch a children's film about non-existent creatures?'
First of all, because I'd say it's extremely uplifting to find yourself in a magical world where, as in most fairy tales, there's a clearly visible line dividing good and evil; evil being usually very superficial, stemming from simply not knowing how to behave.
Because the actress who plays Milli is awfully pretty.
Because a small girl sitting behind me in the cinema was laughing so much.
Because the trollish war-song sounded like some new Suomi-rock hit.
And finally, because 'being childish' isn't necessarily a derogatory expression, even though most people use it in that sense. For me, being childish stands for having the ability to dream, for being naively idealistic and not ashamed of that, for wearing rainbow-coloured socks when it's raining outside and for believing that not only in films and fairy tales things can turn out well in the end.
'Rolli' made me smile. Maybe it'll work for you too?
*(definition of troll courtesy of Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)