Recently a friend suggested I try the podcast “Start With This”, from the makers of “Welcome To Night Vale”. The podcast is designed to get you writing and each episode comes with a discussion, something for you to consume, and something for you to create.
This exercise is from episode 1: “Pick an idea that you’ve had for a while. Take exactly 1 hour to work on it exclusively. This can be one continuous hour, or 30 minutes for two days, or 10 minutes for six days. Then put it out there (written or recorded) on our Membership Community, your website, or shout it to a bird from your porch.”
Addendum: I should add that this scene sort of follows on from “A film noir Adrian Mole”.
Think of a town.
Think of a town where the milk is still delivered daily, by a milkman in a blue uniform, a milkman who flirts with the housewives and checks on the old people on his round even when they aren’t his customers. Think of a town where newspapers are still delivered and still read, paid for in cash in a newsagent’s where washing machines and pushchairs are still sold by a postcard in the window. Think of a town where the children still play outside for the whole day, where no parent sees them from sun-up until tea time when they miraculously appear, scuffed, probably wearing someone else’s sweater and minus a tooth, and no one thinks anything of it. Think of a town where sweethearts still get engaged on her sixteenth birthday, at a party in the function room of the working men’s club where dads embarrass themselves by dancing to something they think is still top of the pops but was really 20 years ago.
This is not the town that Martin returned to.
In his mind it was the town that he left, when, ambitious and quite convinced about practically everything, he packed his bags and left as The First One In Their Family To Go To University. When he returned every six weeks or so to have his washing done, the village elders would consult with him on all manner of things, as though the simple act of going to university had imbued him wisdom and experience beyond his years. He was treated as though he were a qualified professional even though he was just a sallow youth with poor bum fluff and no clean pants. Our Martin is at university, you know. In London.
When he finally returned home on a more permanent basis, some three decades later and with clean pants, it was no longer the town that he remembered. Martin was now 47 but it was hard to tell whether he or the town had aged worse. He had never moved out of London after graduating, unconsciously electing to remain in debt, poor housing and packed mass transit systems.
There was of course the book.
He had attained a minor level of celebrity for a brief while, because of the book. There were times when he seemed to be in less debt than normal and could afford less packed transit systems, because of the book. Yes, there was the incident with Paxman, that was because of the book, but also (he had decided much later) because Paxman was a bit of a knob. Yes, he had reacted in predictable fashion to Paxman’s slightly mocking tone but at least he had been on TV, and that was definitely because of the book. Paxman only spent the one night in hospital and the corporation’s lawyers had decided against pressing charges simply because of the free publicity – publicity that was down to the book.
Well, that and Martin’s temper. There was the thing on LBC with Farage that could be put down to the temper, and he supposed the argument on Have I Got News For You too, possibly the histrionics on The One Show, oh and the first round elimination from Strictly on health and safety grounds. That was the problem with being convinced all the time, it left little room for debate with someone as passionate as Martin.
After the reading of the will (nothing to do with his temper, his parents had simply died of old age) he had become convinced that a fresh start was needed. He’d recently been fired from his job, his partner had left him with nothing but a copy of Blur’s “13” album and his flat had been demolished, and so a fresh start had been on his mind for some time. He was convinced that the Derbyshire air and that old fashioned sense of community would put him right, and he would start on The Sequel, finally.
Then he remembered he would have to go to the station later that day and give a statement about the dead pedestrian to a police detective that he’d failed to call back after a first date. Back then, before he left for uni, Martin had asked her out on a date and not enjoyed it at all (the asking or the date). He felt the date was missing something and could not find the words to explain to either her or himself what it was, so he simply ignored her for a month or two until he left for London. He soon realised what had been missing for him during the date but luckily he found it in London. He found it in Heaven, he found it in Trade, and he found a lot of it in G-A-Y.
The dead pedestrian was symptomatic of the things that kept happening to him. Things happened to him because of his book, because of his temper, but mostly because the universe simply had it in for him. There was a time when he wondered if the universe had it in for him because of the things he found in Heaven, Trade and G-A-Y, but he wasn’t superstitious enough for that theory to take hold.
Take the book, for example. In the book he argued against the idea that there were two different accounts of Adam and Eve in Genesis (Biblical Studies was his field) and instead argued that these were two completely different narratives. In fact, he argued, there was a higher level of human on the planet, living amongst us, and that the first account in Genesis never names Adam and Eve because it doesn’t refer to Adam and Eve. Beautifully researched and exhaustively written, it drew on textual analysis, archaeological records and population genetics. What it didn’t have was hard evidence, but Martin asserted that eventually, the evidence would be found. Of course his theory was laughed at and his book was ignored by all good bookshops, and quite a few rubbish ones too.
That was, until a staff sergeant from the the United States Army Corps of Engineers driving a bulldozer in a testy mood accidentally uncovered the resting place of the last Old Testament king. The staff sergeant was clearing a landing spot for helicopters at a temporary encampment halfway between Hillah and Baghdad and was in a testy mood because of an argument he’d had with his brother about some sneakers. In this mood, he had simply ignored instructions not to extend the landing pad, “beyond those rocks over there because that’s some sort of archaeological shit or something”. Moving the rocks uncovered a cave. Investigating the cave revealed a small complex of underground rooms. Examining the rooms led to the discovery that some were actually prison cells and, being near the site of the Old Testament location of Babylon, this got historians and academics very excited indeed.
What no one expected was that one of these cells would be occupied, and that the occupant of said cell would turn out not only to be royalty, demonstrably around three thousand years old (give or take) and, most surprisingly to everyone but himself, still alive.
Martin had not been surprised to have his theory proven true by the discovery that Zedekiah, the last Old Testament King of Judah, had been sitting in a cell since 586BC waiting patiently to be set free, or at least fed, by his captors. This, he reflected bitterly, was the sort of thing that happened to him all the time.