Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sunday, 15 January 2017


‘Let me introduce myself, introduce myself. My name’s Roger, Roger, and I have this strange habit, strange habit, of saying the same thing twice, saying the same thing twice.’
     I was intrigued to know more.
     ‘How did it begin?’ I asked him.
     ‘Well, well,’ Roger said, ‘I’m not sure, I’m not sure. I was quite young at the time, quite young at the time, certainly not old, certainly not old, and I suddenly found myself, suddenly found myself, saying something, saying something, that I’d only just said, only just said.’
     ‘Gosh,’ I said. ‘Did you see anyone about it?’
     ‘I did, I did,’ Roger said. ‘But there was nothing they could do, nothing they could do. Seems they know very little about it, very little about it. They’re carrying out a study, carrying out a study, to try to find the cause, try to find the cause. But until then, until then, I’m afraid we’re in limbo, afraid we’re in limbo.’
     ‘So there’s no treatment for it?’ I asked.
     ‘Not at the moment, not at the moment,’ Roger said.
     ‘It’s not contagious, is it, contagious is it?’ I asked.
     ‘It can be, it can be,’ Roger said. ‘In fact, in fact, I think you might have caught it, think you might have caught it.’
     ‘Oh no! oh no!’ I exclaimed.
     ‘Sorry about that, sorry about that, old boy, old boy,’ Roger said.
     Just then the train we were travelling on pulled into a station. Two minutes later a young woman approached down the aisle.
     ‘Excuse me, excuse me,’ the young woman said, ‘is this seat taken, is this seat taken?’
     ‘No, no,’ Roger said.
     ‘Do you mind if I sit here, mind if I sit here?’ the young woman asked.
     ‘Please, please,’ Roger said.
     The young woman sat down.
     ‘I shouldn’t be here actually, shouldn’t be here actually,’ she said, ‘but the carriage for people who say things twice, people who say things twice, was full, was full. I hope that’s all right, hope that’s all right?’
     ‘It’s perfectly fine, perfectly fine,’ Roger said.
     ‘Ah, but I see, but I see, that you say things twice too, that you say things twice too,’ the young woman said. She then turned to me. ‘And what about you, what about you? Do you also say things twice, also say things twice?’
     ‘I never used to, never used to,’ I said. ‘But since I met, since I met, this gentleman, this gentleman, I’m afraid I’ve started, afraid I’ve started.’
     I looked up and saw the ticket inspector coming towards us.
     ‘Tickets please, tickets please, for any passengers just boarded, any passengers just boarded!’ announced the ticket inspector.
     ‘Oh, I’ve just boarded, I’ve just boarded,’ said the young woman and gave the inspector her ticket.
     The ticket inspector clipped the young woman’s ticket and gave it back to her.
     ‘Thank you, madam, thank you, madam,’ the ticket inspector said.
     ‘Oh I say, oh I say, do you say things twice too, inspector, say things twice too, inspector?’ the young woman said.
     ‘Only since I’ve been clicking tickets, clicking tickets, in the carriage reserved, carriage reserved, for people who say things twice, madam, people who say things twice, madam,’ the ticket inspector replied.
     A that moment an angry gentleman shouted across from the seat opposite.
     ‘Inspector, I’m bally sick of all these bally people here saying things twice,’ he said. ‘It’s really bally annoying for us “normal” people who only bally say things once. I demand that you bally well do something about it.’
     ‘Is that a congenital problem of yours, sir, congenital problem of yours. sir?’ asked the inspector.
     ‘Is what a bally congenital problem of mine, you bally idiot?’ asked the gentleman.
     ‘Saying the word bally all the time, word bally all the time,’ said the inspector.
     ‘Oh really!’ said the bally gentleman, and slunk back into his bally seat.
     The train pulled into another station.
     ‘Well this is where I get off, this is where I get off,’ I said. ‘It’s been nice talking to you all, talking to you all. But I do hope I get over this, get over this, saying thing twice all the time, saying things twice all the time.’
     I got off train and out of the station. There was a taxi waiting in the small taxi rank. I got into the back and the driver pulled off.
     I took out my mobile phone and pressed a button.
     ‘Where to, sir,?’ asked the taxi driver.
     I gave the driver the address twice, and then spoke into the phone.
     ‘Alice? Alice? It’s me, it’s me. I should be back soon, darling, back soon, darling. But I should tell you, should tell you, that you may notice, may notice, a change in me, change in me. I’m afraid that I’ve started, started, saying things twice, saying things twice. ………. What? What? I said I’ve started to say things twice, started to say things twice. ……… Where did I get, where did I get it, did you say, did you say? Well, I just picked it up, picked it up, talking to a gentleman, talking to a gentleman, on the train, on the train. Oh, and I should just warn you, should just warn you, that it can be contagious, that it can be contagious. …….. What do mean how does it spread, how does it spread? By word of mouth, obviously, by word of mouth, obviously. How else could it spread, how else could it spread? ………. What do you mean, what do you mean, will it effect our marriage, effect out marriage? Why should it effect our marriage, effect our marriage? ………. Your mother, your mother, did you say, did you say? What would it have to do, what would it have to do, with your mother, with your mother? ……….  Calm down, Alice, calm down, Alice. I was not making, not making, a derogatory comment, derogatory comment, about your mother, about your mother. I was simply saying, simply saying….. ……… Yes, I know, I know, we could have a more straightforward conversation, straightforward conversation, if I only said things once, only said things once. …….. What? What? But there are lots of people, lots of people, who say things twice, say things twice. I met three on the train, three on the train, just now, just now. They even have a special carriage, special carriage, reserved for people, reserved for people, who say things twice, say things twice. …….. No, I haven’t been drinking, haven’t been drinking! ……… I tell you I was on a train just now, on a train just now, where people were saying things twice, saying things twice, and that there was a special carriage, special carriage, for…...for….. Alice? Alice? Are you there? Are you there?’
     But the line had gone dead. I sat back in my seat. I was seething, seething. I noticed the taxi driver looking at me in his rear-view mirror.
     ‘Couldn’t help but hearing what you said just now, said just now,’ said the taxi driver, ‘because I get that too, I get that too.’
     ‘Get what too, get what too?’ I asked him.
     ‘Saying things twice, saying things twice,’ said the taxi driver.
     ‘But when I got in your cab, when I got in your cab, and you asked me where to, asked me where to, you only said it once, only said it once,’ I said.
     ‘That’s because I was fighting against it, fighting against it,’ said the taxi driver. ‘But why should I do that, why should I do that? I mean, I mean, just because we’re in a minority, just because we’re in a minority. But we’re just as good as what they are, just as good as what they are? Ain’t that right, guv, ain’t that right, guv? But they look down on us, look down on us, just because they say things only once, say things only once. Well it ain’t right, guv, it ain’t right!’
     ‘By Gad you’re right, by Gad you’re right!’ I said. ‘Why should we be second-class citizens, second-class citizens, just because we say things twice, say things twice? On the contrary, on the contrary, we should be proud of what we are, proud of what we are! We should hold our heads high, hold our heads high, look them in the eye, look them in the eye, and loudly proclaim, loudly proclaim: “Yes, we may say things twice, say things twice! Yes, you may look down on us, look down on us, because you only say things once, only say things once! But we are what we are, are what we are! So get used to it, chum, get used to it, chum!”’
     ‘Get used to it, chum, get used to it, chum!’ echoed the taxi driver.
     ‘And we should boycott, boycott, segregated carriages on trains, segregated carriages on trains, for people who say things twice, people who say things twice!’ I continued in full flow.
     ‘Boycott, boycott!’ said the taxi driver.
     ‘Justice I say, justice I say, for all people, all people, whoever they are, whoever they are, wherever they are, wherever they are, whether they say things once, say things once, or whether they say things twice, say things twice, for we are all equal, all equal, indivisible, indivisible, and free, free!’ I exclaimed.
     ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah!’ proclaimed the taxi driver.
     I lay back in my seat. I felt exhausted and at the same time exhilarated, like there was a fire inside me, a fire inside me! And I felt the motion of the taxi carrying me forward and onward to a bold new future in which people are judged not by the way they speak, whether they say things once or whether they say things twice, but by what is inside their hearts when they say it.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Reminiscences of a Cool Shakespearean

2014 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Royal Shakespeare Company

I was about 18 years old when I bought my first Complete Works. I remember it well, a hardback book with a plain cover; thick, poor quality paper which quickly became tacky; and tiny print with no footnotes. It was absolutely the worst
My original Othello
Cambridge Shakespeare
kind of books to begin an exploration of the works of the Bard. But I suppose that I must have persisted for at some point I graduated to individual editions of several of the plays. The Cambridge Shakespeare, with their red covers and a drawing of Shakespeare by Picasso, were my preferred editions, and I remember purchasing Hamlet, As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Richard III, and perhaps several more that I no longer recall. I carried my copy of Hamlet around with me for so long and read it so much that it literally fell to pieces. I particularly liked the prose scenes with their lively, witty, esoteric dialogue, such as Hamlet’s assertion that he was ‘but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

I now have a copy of Hamlet from The New Cambridge Shakespeare with a footnote explaining that ‘handsaw’ has been interpreted as ‘hershaw’, a kind of heron, and ‘hawk’ as a plasterer’s tool so named. 

I don’t know why I bought Troilus and Cressida, that strange ‘problem play’ set in the Trojan wars with its anti-war, anti-heroism sentiment, so different to Homer’s Iliad. It was only later that I read the other ‘problem plays’: Alls Well That Ends Well; and Measure for Measure, a play of sexual permissiveness in Vienna, in which a phoney monk (the Duke of Vienna in disguise) proposes marriage to a nun (Isabella, the play’s neurotic heroine), and a convicted murderer refuses to attend his own execution. A problem play indeed!

I also at this time saw my first theatrical production of Hamlet. It was presented by the Prospect Theatre Company with Ian McKellen as Hamlet, John Woodvine as Claudius, Faith Brook as Gertrude, James Cairncross as Polonius, and Susan Fleetwood as Ophelia. McKellen was the evident star with posters of him on sale in the foyer for 50 pence. But, alas, his Hamlet failed to impress at least one critic, who wrote of his: ‘sudden shuddering emphasis of lines which seem to bear little or no relationship to his or any other interpretation of the play.’ The same critic, however, praised Susan Fleetwood’s verse speaking as ‘graceful and true’, and thanked Faith Brook for her interpretation of Gertrude as a drunkard ‘ready to sign up with Alcoholics Anonymous’. 

Ian McKellen as Hamlet
Prospect Theatre
It was many years before I saw another production of Hamlet. It was in period costume, though in one scene Hamlet was strangely watching TV. I would need to refer anyone to the play’s director for an explanation of that one.

I bought many more individual editions of the plays, but I didn’t acquire another Complete Works until the Compact Edition of the Oxford Shakespeare of 1988. This controversial edition printed the plays not as they believed Shakespeare wrote them, but as they believed they were performed in the playhouses at the time, since Shakespeare (and others) made alternations during rehearsals or early performances. Some of the alterations were quite shocking to Shakespeare purists, of which I at the time was sadly one. I was particularly outraged by Gertrude’s line in Hamlet: ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’, being transformed in the Oxford edition to: ‘The lady protests too much. methinks.’ No doubt the editors had sound scholarship on their side. But take it from me, dear reader, it was definitely not cool. And neither did the tomfoolery end there. The Oxford editors also decided that the forest in As You Like It was not the forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s native county of Warwickshire, but the forest of Ardenne in France. A travesty! Revolutions have been fought over less!

A new edition of the Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works was published in 2016 and is proving to be equally as controversial as its 1988 predecessor. Its most publicised claim is that Shakespeare had a collaborator in the writing of the all three parts of Henry VI, namely his chief rival Christopher Marlowe.

My most memorable As You Like It
Kate Buffery as Rosalind
My interest in Shakespeare has now become a kind of ‘gentlemanly hobby’ (to borrow a quote from Anthony Burgess) and I am building up a collection of editions of The New Cambridge Shakespeare (whose covers now depict a portrait of Shakespeare by David Hockney). I very occasionally participate in the hashtag #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter, in which participants are asked to tweet their favourite Shakespeare quotes on a given theme. I usually avoid reading biographies and critical studies on the plays but can recommend the following:

James Shapiro - 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. An examination of Shakespeare's plays of 1599 against a background of contemporary events which Professor Shapiro believes influenced the dramatist's writing at the time.

Charles Nicholl - The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street. A fascinating study of Shakespeare at his only known address in London and the domestic drama that unfolded.