In which The Author needs a change of scene
FADE IN FROM BLACK
Music comes up slowly; the track is Traffic by The Stereophonics. It is raining gently. It’s just another week night in a run-down town somewhere in the South Wales Valleys. The camera tracks along the main street, passing a long row of shops protected behind steel shutters. A small group of teenagers loiter on a raised seating area in the middle of the square. The camera pauses outside a small pub, brightly lit, and with about half a dozen punters dotted around the single room. One of the windows is broken. Throughout this establishing scene, the AUTHOR’s voice comes over in a cagey, stagey, side-of-mouth film noir style.
THE AUTHOR: [Voiceover] You know, some guy called Eddington had a good idea back before any of us were even gleams in the milkman’s eyes. He reckoned that if you took an infinite number of monkeys, sat them in front of an infinite number of typewriters, and just let them bash away randomly at the keys for ever and a day, an amazing thing would happen. While we grew old and died, our children and our grandchildren grew old and died, the monkeys would produce every great book. Not just the Bible and Shakespeare, mind you – mere chance would eventually come up with every word ever written by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Miguel Cervantes, John Milton, Lord Byron, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Henry Miller, William Burroughs… You name it, they’d all fall out by the simple mechanics of chance and probability. It’s a nice idea. While they’re at it, our team of tame monkeys will also churn out the complete works of Jeffrey Archer and J.K. Rowling, op-ed pieces for the Daily Mail, and new comedy shows for Radio 4. Hell, you have to wade through the shit to get to the truffle.
The camera zooms in ‘through’ the centre of the network of cracks to the interior of the pub, and pauses. The scene changes magically from full colour, through b/w, to sepia, and back again.
THE AUTHOR: [voiceover] I don’t know quite how many of you boys and girls have ever heard of a guy named Dennis Potter. He used to be kinda big when your mams and dads were tryin’ to keep a house together. He was a writer. Not like the guy who pukes a coupla hundred words out for the local rag every week, without even a bean for his troubles. When I say he was a ‘writer’, I mean the fellow really knew how to put pen to paper. He didn’t find it easy, mind you, not with his hands crippled up the way they were. Even holding a pen was something he found very painful at times. In fact, I guess you could say that for him, writing really was hard work in the true sense of the word.
The camera pans very slowly around the room. The bar is in the far corner, in a straight line from the door. Between these two fixed points are a long bench seat, three oblong tables, and half a dozen chairs. Another long bench seat is situated beneath the windows, and three round tables are placed unevenly in the remaining space. In the opposite corner, and on the wall adjacent to the bar, are two large TV sets tuned to the horse racing. The main features of the interior décor are a log-burning stove (unlit), and above it a stuffed moose’s head (artificial.) RHIAN the barmaid is sitting at the hatchway flicking through the paper. NEIL, the most regular of all the regulars, is perched on a barstool and trying to attract her attention. The camera pans across the low bench seating, taking in the faces of the other customers: JEFF, a tall chap in his early sixties with a raucous laugh which rings out periodically; BINGO BERT, who disappears off to the local club every evening for a game of housey; BORING BOB, a retired teacher who fancies himself as the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom; PAUL JUKEBOX, who is at the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, and who makes frequent visits to the eponymous machine; KEN HORSES, whose attention is fixed to one of the televisions; and DENISE, who wears a wig to cover hair loss incurred by chemotherapy. We pick up snatches of improvised, naturalistic, but ultimately extremely clichéd dialogue. Finally, the camera comes to rest at an empty seat nearest the door. On the table are a black Samsung Netbook, a glasses case, a pen, and a copy of the Guardian, folded to reveal an almost-unstarted crossword. On the seat is a copy of the Ordnance Survey map OL14 – Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. This is STEVE’S seat. He is nowhere to be seen.
THE AUTHOR: [voiceover] Now you take the guy who should be sitting at this table. Some people in this little town say he‘s a writer. In moments of weakness, he might even say it of himself. I mean, when you’ve had a poem published in The Spectator, a short story showcased in the University of Glamorgan Creative Writing Anthology, umpteen letters printed in the local papers, and two hundred and fifty-odd blog entries posted online, I guess you could legitimately describe yourself as a ‘published author.’ So, let’s humour him for a minute. He’s come up against the thing that all writers fear even more than the rejection slip: writer’s block. Right now, he’s taking a leak. And he’s also taking a break. He’s decided that he’s already got more than enough mileage out of writing about the boring bastards in this place. I mean, will ya just listen to them for a minute? Jesus, it’s the same routine every night, with the same soundtrack on the jukebox and the same faces having the same conversations, as regular as a guy who’s finished off last night’s vindaloo for breakfast. It’s no wonder the chap who’s currently communing with Nature in the gents’ toilet feels that he needs a change of scene.
The camera comes in close on the cover of the map.
THE AUTHOR: [voiceover] In fact, it seems as though a little trip to the Forest of Dean might be just what the doctor ordered for this poor miserable soul. He can pay homage to Dennis Potter in person, instead of just re-reading the screenplay to The Singing Detective for the hundredth time. It’s time to see the place with his own eyes, and maybe have an adventure or two.
The camera comes in close on the crossword. We see that only three clues have been completed. They intersect nicely: a seven-letter word originating at 1 across, a nine-letter word dropping down from the end of it, and a three-letter word almost in the middle of the grid. The camera pauses so that we can make out the untidy block capitals:
FUCKING GROUNDHOG DAY
FADE TO BLACK