In my recent travels I met with a TV Producer in Bradford. He’d been following my blog and liking it, and contacted me to discuss ways of dramatising it for TV. We’d arranged to meet in the Brewhaus Bar near the Alhambra Theatre, where he bought me a pint and suggested a curry afterwards in Neal Street, which was just up my street.
We got chatting about all things drama and I embellished some tales of my nomadic experiences. He’d read them all and whereas the blog is I think a mere stream of consciousness, he kindly said they were “more-ish.” Along my desultory route I had naturally pondered televisual adaptations of my prose and I was happy to hear he was thinking similarly. We were on the same hymn sheet, as they say in church and indeed everywhere else.
From the Brewhaus (which I liked very much) we strolled to the Karachi Curry House, which was apparently the first ever such eatery in Bradford, catering for millworkers. Of course there are thousands now, but it was good to see this one had retained its identity and reputation for no-nonsense, unlicensed nosh; cheap, very tasty and served on formica tables minus cutlery (there were plates though). Such is the charm and excellence of the place, there was a couple in their 60s who regularly travel from as far as the Black Country to have a sit-down meal here.
Anyway we had a good old catch-up the Producer and I, and something happened which was rather astonishing – he paid the bill. Having lived in Yorkshire for five years or so when working on Emmerdale, I know this is worthy of note – to get as much as a pint of beer off a Yorkshireman is as rare a sight as a pile of teddy-bear shit.
But the point of this entry isn’t to make cheap jokes about the Yorkshireman’s parsimony (he’s actually a very kind bloke and a good sort), it’s to recount some of our dissertations on story, narrative arcs and the need for truth in drama.
When he asked what kind of story I like best in my travelogue, I said that very often it’s the simple tales of everyday folk. Looking back over some of the entries, I picked out favourites including the one about Phil from Newcastle, who was chained bollock-naked to a lamp-post on his stag night, and all he could worry about was what his lass would say. And the tale of Steve, whose wife Tracy called him a useless twat because he forgot the Amber Solaire on their cathartic trip to Saltburn. These were simple things happening to feckless men who happened to be shit-scared of their wife, or in Phil’s case wife-to-be.
But why also are they my favourites, the salient memories of my 140-day journey so far? It’s because I think they’re resonant of the show I grew up with called Coronation Street. Imagine Stan Ogden, a useless fat layabout nagged to death by Hilda, and Jack Duckworth quaking in his boots at the very thought of Vera’s bubble-perm and metaphorical rolling-pin. These characters (and as I touched on in my eulogy to Liz Dawn the other week, they don’t make them like that any more) were so beautifully-observed out of real life and their stories were not in the main reliant on car-crashes, heists and kidnappings, they were tender, simple, familiar and heartwarming tales of struggling working-class couples trying to get through each day unscathed then go to bed and dream of waking up to something better – ie. a few more quid in the bank.
So when I think of story, this is how I think – a car crash doesn’t make a story, a kidnapping isn’t story either, these are happenings, events. And when I think of truth, this is how I think – truth is what I know, what I relate to. I can relate to the Oggies and the Duckworths, I’ve met them everywhere and I’ve met the modern equivalent in Phil from Newcastle and Steve and Tracy from Birmingham.
But in all my 53 years and all my travels both recent and in the distant past, I have never once met someone’s who’s been bundled into the boot of a car and driven into the woods to have his head chopped off, or locked in a cupboard and left to starve. I’m not for a minute suggesting these things don’t happen (and pity the poor bastards they happen to) I’m just saying it’s not my world and it’s not for me what inherently makes drama or story.
I’m realistic enough to know that these days the audience wants bells and whistles and front covers that tell them everything’s going to be sensational. But I can’t help wishing sometimes the front covers would say we’re going to be treated to a tender, moving, humorous love story between a feckless oaf and a battleaxe. Or maybe I’m just too old-fashioned or just too old for this, or just my life isn’t remotely sensational!
Then again, when I consider that soaps and serial dramas pull in millions whereas my blog is read by one man and his dog, I might be talking out of my arse. So if this blog ever does get televised I might find myself rewriting Steve as a serial killer who gets sick of Tracy’s nagging and takes to wacking her over the head with a monkey wrench, and Phil chained bollock-naked to the lamp-post and getting eaten alive by foxes.
But to be honest I’d struggle with that, because it didn’t happen, so it wouldn’t be the truth.