Thursday, 5 August 2010

Setting fire to the corn fields

I'm on a train from Sheffield to London St Pancras. The journey up was frustrating. Not only was there no catering on the train “through lack of staff” but there was also no internet or phone reception for pretty much the whole way up; a hopeless state of affairs when various people from the BBC are trying to get in touch. I realise I’ve become ridiculously reliant on modern day technology. I'm addicted to email and text messaging. I was never like this about telephones. In fact, and here’s an admission, I have an almost pathological fear of making phonecalls! When I was young, I used to make my brother phone people on my behalf; not because I was grand, but because the process filled me with uncontrollable fear. It’s fine with people I know well. I talk to my mother almost every day, but ask me to call a relative stranger and the panic bells, even nowadays, start ringing. This freaky weirdness is perhaps made even more bizarre by the fact that I’d happily make a phone call to anyone on someone else’s behalf.

I’m better than I ever used to be. Just after graduating from drama school, I missed out on a series of wonderful opportunities because I simply didn’t get back to people who’d asked me to call them. When emails and text messages came along, I suddenly found myself able to say everything I needed to without that crippling fear. It’s absolutely bonkers... but it's very real! A psychiatrist would have a field day.

I’ve been in a tiny village on a hill just outside Sheffield this evening, being interviewed by Look North about the symphony. They’ve been showing one movement each night, so tonight’s was the last, which means the project is officially over. I now have to start facing up to realities like finances, fitness, foot problems and court cases...

The outside broadcast probably didn’t go as well as the Look North team would have wanted. Part way through the interview with me, the sound cut out, and they hastily had to return to the main studio. Everyone was incredibly apologetic, but I’ve seen far far worse and we were right at the top of a hill in a place where a mobile phone has never been able to ring! The only issue I had with the whole broadcast was a slightly peculiar package, which was meant to show how Doreen had reacted to the symphony, but actually just showed shots of her hands, a repeat of part of the film and a very odd shot of an abbey that had neither featured in our film, nor had Doreen in it! It was possibly the most baffling package I’ve ever seen broadcast, and didn’t have any of the wonderful shots that Keith had taken of her mouthing along to the music, which were some of the most moving images I’ve seen. I wondered if there’d been some kind of mistake if I’m honest. Look North’s coverage of the whole process has been so brilliant, so on-the-money and so professional that this very short, but rather hastily cut package really stood out.

Still, it was maybe a good thing that my interview went wrong, because I was able to disappear into the nearby pub and watch the film being broadcast. It was a hugely memorable experience because the whole pub seemed to be watching intently. It was wonderful to see how people were responding to the locations, almost like excited school children. It genuinely seemed to matter to them, “eh, look, Sue, it’s Hillsborough... Oh my God, I used to go to school just behind that pub... Where’s that? That looks like Sheffield as well... Ooh, isn’t this lovely” and so it went on whilst I felt prouder and prouder.

It’s not often you get to watch something with a group of people who aren’t on their best behaviour because they know they’re sitting with the director. At the end of the film, a bloke turned to the whole pub and said; “well, I reckon that were marvellous. Weren’t that marvellous?” Obviously, a massive round of applause would have been a nice touch, but I had to make do with a few subtle nods of agreement, which felt like a suitably Yorkshire response, and one which I shall cherish.

The route from Sheffield to London will take me through the Midlands fields of my childhood. If the light holds out, I’ll no doubt get to see the mystical Triangular Lodge at Rushton, the Weetabix factory at Barton Seagrove and Sandy Hill in Bedfordshire. The last time I did this journey, I passed these locations at sunset on one of those misty, nostalgic, late summer evenings when they used to set fire to the cornfields. It was almost like watching a film. There was a memory waiting for me everywhere I chose to look; the field where we found the crop circle and sat until midnight hoping the aliens would return, the place where I got chased by a bull, the spot where the gypsies and their daschunds were murdered, the forest where I saw black squirrels, the spire of the church, I’d go to find my brother on Christmas day and hear the most astonishing organ voluntary emerging triumphantly from the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful. Happy in the main, yet somehow painful memories. Where on earth did those simple times go?

August 5th 1660 was a Sunday and Pepys’ wife was still not well. Pepys went to Holborn to visit one Dr Williams “who had cured her once before of this business”. He gave Pepys an ointment, which was duly sent home with Will Hewer, who was obviously no longer at death's door. In fact, we're told later in the entry, that Hewer's brief illness was as a result of not being very used to riding horses! Lack of fitness, in other words. Pepys was also given a plaster, which for some reason, he decided to take with him to the next part of his day; namely lunch with Mr Sheply.

After dinner came church and after church came a visit to Mr Pierce the surgeon, where a great deal of singing and music-making took place. On his way home, Pepys stopped at Westminster Stairs to watch a fight between a waterman and a Dutchman that Pepys had met at a wedding recently. The fight, according to Pepys, “made good sport”. Rather cheekily, and perhaps because water travel was limited on Sundays, he then hitched a lift with a bread or reed carrying boat (depending on how you interpret the Shelton shorthand system that Pepys used). The boat was bound for Gravesend, but it dropped him off at London Bridge. Poor Elizabeth, we’re told, had a very bad night of it... Poor Elizabeth. Pelizabeth.

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