Our current Beelzy, Simon, has an update for Paul, the previous incumbent.
I’ve been listening again to that interview you did with the 1996 Plough Boys on the radio. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to that interview. I still get a bit nostalgic and sentimental (though still enormously proud) when I hear it. That bit where you say: ‘When I pop my clogs, I hope a younger fella will come along.’
I’m still here, Paul. Made a promise, didn’t I?
It’s been seven years since I wrote about taking over from you as Beelzebub in this bizarre old folk tradition called the Calverton Plough Play. It’s been ten years since we sang at your funeral and we still miss you, toast you, and wish you were here.
Thirteen years I’ve been a devil now. But what’s weird is, two months after I play…
If you’ve not seen it, it’s me onstage on my tod for 75 minutes wearing a 1970s school uniform pretending to be ten years old. For the avoidance of doubt, ten years old is 38 years younger than my actual age.
Boy, the show hurts. It’s physically and mentally draining. There have been times when I’ve come off feeling like I’m experiencing shock or something, and that there must be easier ways of spending my spare time.
CHALK is about a man desperately trying to cling to his memories in the face of dementia. He experiences bewildering highs as the music he hears unlocks things in him long since buried and crushing lows as the illness shuts these memories down in stages. The world in Richard’s head begins as a sanctuary, finishes as a battleground. Some scenes are light, whimsical. Others are brutal. Somewhere in the middle of it there’s a message of hopefulness without mawkishness because I think that’s how the loved ones I’ve lost to dementia would have wanted me to tackle this.
I’m so proud of the show and the feedback I’ve been given but I never know how audiences are taking it as I’m up there in the middle of it. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at once.
So, these words from Mike (c/o Arundel’s Big House band) who saw CHALK on Friday 25 February fair took the wind out of my sails.
Thanks so much for this, Mike.
‘Friday went to see the production titled “Chalk” which ran for three nights at the Victoria Institute. It was written and performed by Simon Carter and dealt with the subject of dementia, a challenging topic to say the least. I am in no way qualified to offer a critique of the evening, all I can really say is how it resonated with me. At a performance level it was an incredible outpouring of emotional and physical energy that surpasses anything I’ve ever seen on the stage. I’m normally knackered after a gig; the nerves, the tension and the act of creating all make a demand on you energetically. But Simon should have been allowed to lie down for a week to recover from one performance, let alone get up and do it all again the next night!
I thought the play was really cleverly constructed, alternating between moments of hysteria and disorientation, to vivid flashbacks from childhood and adolescence. The increasing blur between reality and memory world and the frustrations in communicating what was being experienced were all palpable. The disease itself was personified as an evil that no matter how successful can never claim the heart and soul of its victim, and most interestingly for me, an observation that I have encountered several times before, how successful music is in connecting directly to that heart and soul, serving as the trigger for moments of serenity and comfort. I have very little direct exposure to dementia, unlike Simon who had seen it work its evil through two relatives, but I felt from the play a sense of how it might be being experienced and how important are the sensory triggers, music in particular, in penetrating the veil it draws over the individual.
It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t without a message of hope and dignity.’
The first in an occasional series of ill thought through metal reviews, direct from the Metal Man Cave! Today – Babymetal.
SOME THINGS ARE HUGE in Japan. Sumo wrestlers, for example, because competition rules require this. And Godzilla is literally huge in Japan – thirty storeys high if the theme song from the spin off 1978 cartoon series is to be believed, and let’s not speak of Godzooky, Godzilla’s hapless reptilian sidekick in that show, just like Keith Harris’ Orville, but not a duck, a baby dinosaur, and not wearing a nappy, like Orville did.
Babymetal are huge in Japan too. They’re something called a kawaii metal band, a musical genre that blends heavy metal and J-pop, and they’ve been kicking around since 2010.
I was uninitiated in Babymetal until this morning when my friend Mark sent me this thing off YouTube.
I obviously thought this must be the world’s biggest karaoke place owned by some singing triplets, but not a bit of it. This is a full-on live arena gig (or possibly a stadium gig because to be fair the whole thing moves so fast I wasn’t able to properly check if there was a roof) with a largely unfeatured backing band and only the briefest of shots of the drummer’s feet. One of the singers has a very sparkly stick she carries around. This probably helps her move about when the high energy dance routines have done for her back.
There’s also a fella wearing a skeleton leotard in the crowd, just like the one Uncle Brian wore at that Halloween do at Carlton in Lindrick Working Man’s Club in 2007. It might actually be Uncle Brian at this Babymetal gig thinking about it, and it completely explains his mysterious disappearance.
Musically, the track HEADBANGER properly rocks. It’s like ‘Painkiller’ era Judas Priest if Halford, Downing and Tipton were not Halford, Downing and Tipton but some Japanese triplets in ra ra skirts. Mind you, there’s some ancient Egyptian cat iconography in the background, so maybe they’re mumm-ra ra skirts. ThunderCats was, of course, vastly superior to the Godzilla cartoon series, with Lion-O going on to run the Wetherspoon’s franchise and lose a whole heap of money because of Brexit.
The backing band’s outfits are an obvious nod to Japanese horror film The Ring, or possibly the loonies in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Whatever, man. And I think I may even have spotted some dragons, because my current medication is that good. Also there’s a big shiny triangle with some symbols on it.
Try as I might, I can’t imagine Babymetal going down well at the local church’s open mic. I don’t know how they’d fit all their equipment in unless they moved the font, which has been standing there since the 1720s, or temporarily relocated Michael’s organ. Also, while I don’t understand Uncle Brian’s decision to leave Carlton in Lindrick in 2007, ultimately to turn up to a Babymetal gig in Japan, based on this track alone I have to respect it.
In short, I like Babymetal very much and will surely look at some more of their videos on Wednesday.
As live theatre returns to the United Kingdom, my brand new play CHALK is one of the first out of the blocks in the East Midlands. It’s being staged at the Robin Hood Theatre in Averham, Nottinghamshire, Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 June 2021. The show aims to raise dementia awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Society.It’s also a world premiere, so I’m posting my programme notes for posterity!
“IT’S MY ABSOLUTE PLEASURE to be performing CHALK for you at the Robin Hood Theatre. It’s the first time the play has been staged in front of a live audience (which means it’s both thrilling and terrifying for me all at once) and I couldn’t have wished for a better experience in the lead up. Geoff Morgan’s done a terrific job as director and the gusto with which the team has tackled the many technical challenges (I think CHALK now holds unofficial venue record for most single sound and lighting cues in a one act production) has been so impressive. They’ve even built me a giant desk.
The run has been COVID-delayed. We were due to go in November 2020, and then January 2021, now here we are in June. But I remind myself that if it hadn’t been for lockdown I may never have finished the script. This had been sitting around about 75% complete for several years. I finished it initially to be performed by a professional actor chum called Dan Fearn, with an opportunity of getting CHALK into development at the National, where it may still end up.
‘I’ll send it to the Robin Hood Theatre for read-through and feedback at the writer’s group,’ I thought in a moment of rare lockdown proactivity.
A few weeks later I found myself staring down the barrel of actually performing the thing. Geoff can be very persuasive, and he was keen to get a live piece of theatre up on the stage as quickly and safely as possible. The way things have worked out, it’ll be first production on after official re-opening. Gulp.
It’s for Edith (my grandmother) and Alan (my uncle), both lost to dementia. Alongside other close family, these glorious people were written all over major parts of my childhood.
You may have had, or may have, an Edith or an Alan close to you if you’ve been affected by dementia. What took them in the end was something terrible and devastating, but there were sparks, flashes, in the midst of it. Moments which, when triggered by a familiar voice, a familiar smell, a familiar song, caused them to rise from the darkness and light up the place with a smile, a giggle. In people with dementia, longer-term memory can be prolonged through the hearing of familiar music. An old song can transport you back. It can bring back places, people, occasions.
I never knew for certain what went on behind the eyes, but I did see glimpses. The last time I saw Edith she said to me, in an all too fleeting moment of recall: ‘Oh! Simon! Hello, Simon! Where have you been?’
I don’t think she saw me as the adult grandchild in front of her. I think, in her mind, I was the five-year-old grandchild again, running around her kitchen with that infernal saucepan on his head, making noises like a motorbike, crisps and crumbs tumbling down his chin. I’m sure this was the version of me nanna clinged to because she’d spoken of it so often before. Forever a child for her, now.
Dementia is a tough subject to write about and I don’t take the responsibility of doing so lightly. I’m hopeful that I can capture of sense of what life might be like behind the eyes of an Edith, or an Alan. I’m hopeful that I can raise some awareness (and some donations) for Alzheimer’s Society, an amazing organisation which does amazing work.
Above all, I’d like to show that for all the distress that dementia causes it surely will not, cannot, ever truly claim a person’s heart, soul and smiles. Who they were, and all they meant to us, stays with us long afterwards. I’m sorry – I don’t want to sugar coat this. Really I don’t. It’s just that I saw this to be true, and twinkling, in the eyes of a loved one as a song, as a voice, took them back somewhere only they knew. Bringing them joy. Release. Dignity in the darkness.
I hope you enjoy the show. Thank you for the opportunity to do it.
And, of course, welcome back to live theatre.”
Donate to Alzheimer’s Society via our JustGiving page here.
JANE SAYS she’d like a nanna-style tea for her birthday. Proper old school. Sandwiches with the crusts off, mini scotch eggs and cocktail sausages, that type of thing. Maybe some items in a stick format to thrust at some dips. Oh! And definitely jelly and ice cream, and a birthday cake.
I enquire about quiche, and Jane says why not. There’s always something at a nanna-style tea you don’t really like but feel obliged to offer anyway, and for Jane this is quiche. I tell her I love quiche and that when I was a kid the thing I disliked at nanna-style teas was pilchards and I never told my actual nan, God rest her soul. Jane agrees there will be no pilchards today. Maybe no pilchards ever.
Jane’s my wife. She’s 45 years old, but what’s on the outside shouldn’t fool you because on the inside she’s two. Literally.
Her biology is not the biology she was born with, you see.
It’s actually the biology that an extraordinary young man from Germany (who we’ve yet to meet) was born with, because he donated his stem cells to Anthony Nolan to save the life of a stranger, and that stranger was Jane.
My wife. My best friend. A force of nature. A magnificent mother to our children. An inspirational volunteer and leader for our local St John’s Ambulance. The bravest, toughest, most glorious woman I have ever known. The absolute, undisputed, love and blessing of my life.
On 26 October 2018, Jane was diagnosed with something terrifying called acute adult lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a rare form of blood cancer. I don’t want to go too deeply into private things here, but after weeks in hospital, months of chemotherapy and an avalanche of medication, Jane and I came to learn two very important facts from the incredible team at Nottingham City Hospital’s haematology unit – 1) Jane had gone into remission; the leukaemia had gone and 2) a stem cell donor, without whom there was no hope of a long-term cure, had been found. Not just found. He was a near perfect match.
I cried, a lot, later on. I flung my arms up at the sky and thanked God, science and the NHS for answered prayer.
On 13 March 2019, Jane received her stem cell transplant at the Fletcher Ward, Nottingham City Hospital. Here’s a breathtaking short film from Anthony Nolan which shows just what it means to know you’ve found a match.
I remember when those precious cells got to the ward. They’d been flown in all the way from Frankfurt that morning, defying storms, airport security and a courier ride from Heathrow in heavy traffic, to reach her. I remember watching as the cells steadily went through the tube and into my Janey, remember thinking just how many wonderful souls had been part of making this happen, how grateful I would always be to those wonderful souls, how utterly amazing human beings can be when they can show kindness to strangers just because. We live in a world which can often feel so hostile, so divided, so fallen. But it feels to me that despite everything, we’re very much the same, under the skin.
We found out that it’s quite common for stem cell warriors to mark the anniversary of their transplants as a birthday. Two birthdays a year, it seems, isn’t something just reserved for the Queen. It makes sense, because on a biological level, you are effectively reborn on the day of transplant. Everything inside you is brand new as new life begins. It’s why you can be 45 on the outside, but on the inside be a babe, an infant. To me, this just feels miraculous.
It’s been far from straightforward since, mind you. A stem cell transplant can save a life, but this can never be 100% guaranteed, or 100% free of complexity. We weren’t able to celebrate Jane’s first rebirthday. Complications post-transplant had led to Jane needing to be treated for graft versus host disease (GVHD), which is caused when donor cells recognise host cells as foreign and begin to attack them. This can lead to further problems such as severe dermatitis, which is how GVHD presented in Jane. More months of treatment ensued to address this.
Which brings us to now. At the time of writing, the world seems a brighter, lighter place, COVID notwithstanding. Jane’s had her first vaccine jab and, as a carer, I’ve had mine. That’s such a relief because Jane continues to be immuno-compromised and has effectively been shielding for a year. I know there’s been some polarisation on this issue but, just so you know where I stand on this, please just wear the mask. Please.
I write this now for three reasons.
One – my darling girl is two today. It’s such a special occasion and she deserves to be honoured and lifted up;
Two – it’s like the fear has started to go away now and I can express myself about this experience more freely. It’s been so hard, but now I think we deserve to celebrate;
Three –you need to be a stem cell donor if you’re physically able to and you’re not a registered donor already.
Why wouldn’t you do it? You’re literally walking around with the means to save a life inside you. Congratulations! You’re a potential miracle – now go do something about it.
The two main charities are Anthony Nolan (for adults 16-30) and DKMS (for adults 17-55). Jane’s donor came from Anthony Nolan; I’m now a donor for DKMS. If (and when) the call ever comes, I’ll be ready. It’s my sincere hope and prayer that you’ll read this, contact one of those organisations today, and join me as a lifesaver in waiting.
But enough from me for now. Jane’s just woken up from her snooze and I’m going to make her a cup of tea. Then it’s over to the shops to pick up more stuff for our nanna-style tea later.
More utterly riveting dispatches from Shufflehampton Parish Council, England. ‘Good lord, these people are clearly morons.’ MADE UP QUOTE
MEETING DATE: FRIDAY 20 MARCH 2020
THE ACTING CHAIR convened the meeting at 7.30 pm.
Cyril Keenly, the Clerk of the Parish Council, dialled into the meeting because he was self-isolating. Councillor Watterson asked if anyone else was self-isolating because there was just him and the Acting Chair in the Council Room.
The Clerk confirmed everyone else was self-isolating though Councillor Pritchard didn’t really count because he was still in a coma after someone had attacked him with a pick-axe, Councillors Dean and Tomkins didn’t count because they were on trial for murder after the dismembered bodies of their ex-spouses were found at the Cow and Banjo and the Chairman didn’t count because he’d been photographed doing something ‘right dodgy’ and quite possibly illegal, forcing him to resign in disgrace.
The Clerk said Councillor Martin wasn’t able to attend the meeting because of a prior engagement with the Russian Mafia.
Councillor Boothby, Acting Chair, asked Councillor Andrews if he could switch off his webcam. While Skype enabled Councillors to run meetings during the current pandemic with public gatherings restricted, this didn’t mean it was appropriate for Councillor Andrews to attend meetings sat on the porcelain. Councillor Andrews apologised and switched off his video feed. He also muted the audio, but not before everyone heard a tiny plop.
Councillor Boothby said the Parish Council needed to show real leadership during the public health crisis and should encourage social distancing.
Councillor Lathers said she’d practiced social distancing for years, mainly from her ex-husband, estate agents and people who read The Daily Mail. Councillor Watterson said that with supermarket shelves now cleared of loo roll because of panic buying, he’d found The Daily Mail to be soft, strong and very, very long. Councillor Andrews, switching his audio back on, said he’d heard rumours that The Sun was actually softer if you were a folder and not a scruncher. He’d also heard The Daily Telegraph was more absorbent, with a quilted edition on Sundays. He muted his audio again, but not before everyone heard a soft groan and splash.
Councillor Lathers said she’d touched a copy of The News of the World once and had to self-isolate for fourteen days.
Councillor Gooding said this whole thing with the pandemic was just scaremongering and that Britain had survived the Blitz. Councillor Boothby said she was no expert, but understood you couldn’t generally catch the Blitz by somebody coughing next to you on a bus. You also couldn’t catch the Blitz by walking round in large crowds in deliberate ignorance of advice from qualified health experts that people should stay at home as an entirely sensible precaution to minimise the risk of infecting the elderly and those already in poor health.
Councillor Watterson added that he was no expert either, but understood that comparing the pandemic to something that happened in World War II was at best naïve jingoism and at worst the intellectual reasoning of reckless simpletons.
Councillor Gooding said that British people were made of stronger stuff and even though he’d caught the virus at a darts match in the pub last Wednesday and had since gone to three concerts, nine supermarkets, two schools and a hospital, it would all turn out for the best if everyone just thought more positively, and believed harder, and Got Virus Done. At this point he coughed loudly and his line went dead.
Councillor Boothby said it would be a truly beautiful thing for the people of Shufflehampton to set aside their longstanding and ultimately meaningless differences during this crisis to do all they could to work together for the sake of the most desperate and disadvantaged. Already Councillor Boothby had seen many inspiring examples of selflessness and love in the community which, in their compassionate simplicity, had done much to restore her ailing faith in the precious, innate beauty of humanity. In desperate times, she mused, it was astounding how distance could bring people together when proximity so often tore them apart. It was the ultimate paradox.
Councillor Watterson said they’d run out of Ultimate Paradox in the chemists but he’d got twenty boxes of Lemsip and what was left of the hand sanitizer.
Councillor Boothby hoofed Councillor Watterson in the cobblers.
The Acting Chair asked if there was any other business. Councillor Andrews, switching his audio back on, said he didn’t know but he’d keep at it for a bit.
He muted his audio again, but not before everyone heard his wife come in.
The meeting ended at 8.01 pm, with absolutely no pasta anywhere.
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