View: Sir Henry At Rawlinson’s End

To the tune of: Vivian Stanshall – Sir Henry At Rawlinson End

The story so far.

The hapless and unusual Hubert, having unhappily chanced upon Sir Henry reliving the bombing of Dresden, has received a terrific thrashing and a crippling kick in the fork. He is now in disgrace condemned to his room.

The body of Doris Hazard’s pekinese, unwittingly asphyxiated under her husband’s bottom, after a ritual two weeks in the Rawlinson refrigerator, has been given over to Old Scrotum for indecent burial under a giant marrow. This marrow is Sir Henry’s pride and on his instructions the vegetable is daily drip fed with a powerful laxative so that “if some rascal runs off with it and eats the blessed thing it’ll give ‘em the runs for weeks”.

Long before his death in a flaming house-boat, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band Vivian Stanshell’s errant star was waning, as the spirit of the era that sustained him also waned; he was both product and producer of that re-renaissance that accompanied the hedonistic liberation of the sixties and seventies, but he also drew on a traditional aristocratic demeanour that lovingly informed his work. He had the variety of aberrant behaviours that we tend to call quintessentially English and that made him stand aside from his era, in the way that Noel Coward stood away from his; by ‘quintessentially English’ we mean posh, strange, post-colonial men who spoke in long rambling light sentences where one has to hack away the lush verbiage to stand a chance of finding often-absent meaning.

Viv and some mice.

‘Sir Henry At Rawlinson End’ is the masterpiece of this , a louche cocktail of Ripping Yarns, The Archers and some monstrous bastard of Brideshead Revanant. It could be portrayed as a one man show, with Stanshall’s character at the heart of it, playing every part, singing every song, and linking the narrative. Except Stanshall is dead, so a brave Mike Livesley stepped into that void. Where stanshall was Elfin, he is Dwarfish; where Stanshall was pale, he is ruddy; where Stanshall was effete, he is boorish.

Despite all these deficiencies in his appearance, he carries the piece (performed here at The Unity theatre in Liverpool and worth the journey) forward single-handedly, glorying in the filth and rancour that undermine the colonial warrior unreflectively drinking himself, his family and retainers out of existence. In some senses, it is a companion piece to Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm; where that satire impinged modernity on the bucolic stereotype of Thomas Hardy and his timeworn kin, this looks at the opposite end of society, the Wodehouse world of maiden aunts, wrinkled retainers (in this case called “Old Scrotum”) and idiot kith, and escorts them down through the po-faced forelock-tugging of pre-WWI Britain before depositing them in his own brand of ingenious post-60s squalidity that rejected all the majors and their decrepid societal structure that was dying with the empire.

Alone again Florrie’s eyes focused on the copper gleam of the coal scuttle, clouded, and in seconds had surrendered to Erewhon. Peacefully on tip-toe through the grey spheres where shade had substance, whispers walked, and Maya reigned. Wistful and lovely are walls with wisteria, clematis clambers on time pocked walls white. Stranger than larkspur or lupin, hydrangea many headed bright nosegay tongue-tied, fancy flight.

There was a face jumping competition at the Fool and Bladder. This ancient amusement involved leaping on to volunteer’s heads, lightly touching, and then springing off. To draw blood or squash a nose meant instant disqualification, and this was the skill of it. The normally phlegmatic Seth Onetooth was unquestioned champion of this unusual sport and he stood huge dark and work stained outside the old pub explaining the rules and recalling past triumphs to Reg Smeeton, the village newsagent and self-styled human encyclopaedia.

A large red faced farm worker, stripped to the waist, paced out an enormous run-up before turning to thunder down on his grinning partner lying on the grass. “Eeh, he’s got no chance” said Seth smugly, “silly buggers wearing spiked running shoes”.

Sir Henry is a beast of man, the classic abusive familial head, raves monstrously and constantly. We start In Media Res, with the narrator (who also plays all roles, almost as reportage) bringing us up to speed with the world of Rawlinson and book-ending it. There is little story; a dinner party is in there, but it’s difficult to ascertain what, if anything, actually happens. It is best characterised as a poisonous vignette into the long-passed world of our parents’ generation, where everyone is damaged to the point of total alienation, moral collapse and physical failure, and perfectly capable of expressing this by occasional bursts of song.

“Aar, waste of good drinkin’ time. I had to go up again and see if the old girl had finished her bloomin’ breakfast” huffed Scrotum crossly.

The old girl was Sir Henry’s mother, once a great beauty but now, unknown to Florrie, bedridden in a remote chamber at Rawlinson End.

“Well er, ‘ad she then, finished it like?” asked Seth.

“Course not. Nice bit of smoked haddock been there by the side of the bed getting cold for the last three years” said Scrotum taking a large slurp.

“By heck, three years. Does she do owt?” said Seth.

“Course not, she’m just lying there never saying nothing wi’ er gob wide open, catching flies and playing with the rats. Sir Henry says she’m not getting no more grub ‘til she’s eaten the last lot”.

Reg Smeeton, smelling strongly of newsprint, patted down the back of his wig.

“Did you know there is no proper name for the back of the knees”.

So there you have it; a single actor stood in a set with minimal cobweb-clad adornments (in which I include the band) satirising stereotypes beyond living human memory with the crudeness of Viz  and the eloquence of Noel Coward. My dad, who was a devo of the Bonzos in their hey-day, complained that Livesley was not Viv; even with his eyes closed, the man was sub-Stanshall. I, with less preconceptions and no nostalgia for the hero of a lost youth, found his rotundity a perfect raconteur, dancing like a dainty-toed blimp, providing character portraits that roved the octaves, and conjuring up a world I’ve only known through out-of-copyright books.

Next time Mrs E the housekeeper has one of her nasty turns and believes herself to be a chicken, but Henry refuses to have her treated saying

“Well, it’s always good to have a supply of fresh eggs”.

Listen to the album; the play is off the stage and may not return. If it does, and Sir Henry establishes himself near you… pay the old chap a visit.

Poems For A Broken Heart

To the tune of: The Magnetic Fields – Always Already Gone (suggestion from Tony Ellis).

I’ve been reading my dad’s old copy of McEachran’s A Cauldron Of Spells – it’s snippets of poetry that feel good read out loud. I think it’s helping. I’ve picked my favourites out and interspersed them below.

She was a child and I was a child
In this kingdom by the sea
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my Annabel Lee,
With a love that the wingéd seraphs of heaven
Coveted Her and me.
Edgar Allen Poe, Annabel Lee

I really didn’t expect breaking up to hurt this much – I am so tired of crying. Everything starts it; yesterday, I saw a peanut and sesame snack bar in a shop, a perfect mingling of our two allergies, that set me off when I was trying to buy lunch. I came home through all her packed bags; I saw her fluffy slippers, and wailed out loud and startled my landlord who was coming downstairs. I broke down when I realised she’d taken all the tacky fridge magnets. Et cetera. Yet, I know this is just a passing phase, something I have to work through, and I’m not the only one hurting here, and that you’ve all been through it before. I’m bewildered that I haven’t.

She looked a little wistfully
Then went her sunshine way;
The sea’s eye had a mist on it
And the leaves fell from the day

She went her unremembering way,
She and left in me
The pangs of all the partings gone
And partings yet to be
Francis Thompson, Daisy

I felt obliged to tell someone I respect about this, and he opened up in turn. He told me about something horrible that’s happened in his family, to his nearest relative, and the daily horror he’s going through having to help this person he loves; this is a thing his beloved is suffering that is both horrible, grotesquely humilating and lethal, and he’s coping quietly every day. It made me ashamed, though I know my sorrow is no less valid; misery doesn’t work like Top Trumps.

He that loveth love beyond reward and retribution
Friedrich Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra

Wish I’d been heartbroken younger to be honest – it sucks to be this old and cynical and weeping. I just want to sleep all the time and forget about it. But then, for some reason, you’re obliged to wake up again.

Die Jahre kommen und gehen
Geschlechter steigen ins GRab;
Doch nimmer vergeht die Liebe
Die ich im Herzen hab!

Heinrich Heine, Die Heimkehr

It’s worse than mourning, in that the object of mourning cannot be recovered – it is beyond your grasp, and that’s the horror. This, the object is present, close, could be reached, touched and tasted as it was before; the difference is in the head alone, not even in the heart. We made a painful decision, mutually and it takes all our willpower to keep hurting ourselves because we’re convinced that’s the right thing to do, for both our happiness.

Rock meeting rock can know love better
Than eyes that stare or lips that touch
All we know in love is bitter
And it is not much.

Conrad Aitken, While the blue sky above us arches

I miss Maria as much as I miss original Old Peculiar, before they fucked up the flavour.
I miss her as much as Michael Bay missed the point when he made Pearl Harbour.
I miss my little one as much as a misanthrope misses anthropes.
I miss her less than I miss my forlorn hopes.
(Me, just now. Yeah, you know it’s getting bad when you start writing doggerel yourself.)

The Death of the Non-Gamer

To the tune of: Kate Bush – Pi

As a PR and journalist, I’ve been frustrated by the non-gamers and anti-gamers – the people who haven’t played or would never play games – and how they control the media. As the years have gone by, their hold on the mainstream has been eroded and the review sections of most national media are now games-friendly but the main news pages are still run with an ethos that is often anti-games. I’d argue this is because the people running these pages are either older people who’ve never seen the point in trying games or, more likely, they’re just part of the burgeoning crew who are neo-Luddites; the type of people who use mobile phones and computers through sufferance, and can’t believe that the majority loves tech.

Yet, as we saw with the obsolescence of the WWII generation by the late 1960s, perceptual and control shifts can happen, and happen rapidly. Take a look at the graphs below, which illustrate how the population of gamers at large is going to shift in the UK over the next 20 years. I’ve used two data sources here, detailed at the bottom  – as data isn’t currently available for anyone under 16, I’ve pushed the % of gamers in that group to 100% – as it’s likely to be near that anyway. You can have a look at my data sets and a better look at these graphs here.

Looking at the rough numbers, I’m guesstimating that the turning point’ll be around 2023. I think this as that’ll be the point at which the generations that comprise at least 50% gamers will be greater than 50% of the total population. Of course, that’s not the same as running the roost, as there is a much larger proportion of older people who don’t play games at all and people are living longer and longer – but I’m imagining that the progression of the proportion of young people who are gamers will continue to near 100%, which will balance the oldies, and that more older people will play as they get older, as games will be more ubiquitous.

Again, despite the demographic shift, the older generation will still be in charge of the media, and the oldest generations will be more likely to be reading Dead Tree media than the anyone under 60 in 2030, so there will still be incentives to produce anti-games content (especially amongst the right-wing press whose readership is older anyway, and who are more likely to indulge in scare-mongering). It’s just that this out-of-date commentary will be irrelevant to the vast majority of the population – as Mary Whitehouse was by the late 80s, when she was better known as a figure of fun.

Data Sources
ISFE data and
Govt Stats

I, naturally fled.

So, after a week of Maria skipping out every night, we’ve split up. She loves me, I love her, but it’s not enough.

To the tune of: Johnny Cash – Hurt, Leonard Cohen – Ain’t No Cure For Love, and This is What’s She Like – Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

(I wrote this on Friday night – we’ve only really confirmed the breakup properly tonight, so I’m posting it now, as I’ve been at a wedding all weekend. HA, irony.)

An awful painting I did of Maria

So, after a week of Maria skipping out every night, we’ve split up. She loves me, I love her, but it’s not enough. We discussed it recently, and our loving cup has turned from fine wine into purest vinegar; we argued constantly, our life aims differed (and hers were obessively inflexible) and it got to the point that she was constantly pushing away my increasingly desperate attempts at affection. I had to edit that sentence with a palpitative heart to transfer our relationship into the past tense; for me, it’s still live and I cannot let it go. I love her so much, I love her little happy face (which has become rarer and rarer), I love her daftness and idiosyncrasy. I love her sausage fingers and her funny toes, her foot-stomping tantrums and her beautiful smile.

I’m aware that, while she has affection for me, she’s fallen out of love with me more than I have with her. She’s been pushing me away, avoiding intimacy, and sleeping curled away from me in the bed. I would sit up and watch her, unable to hug her for fear of receiving a torrent of whinges. She’ll watch TV, but not with me, listen to music, but not mine, read books, but not the ones I give her. Again the present tense is creeping in, dammit. She was there, but not with me.

What’s really breaking my heart though, is my broken dreams. I dreamt of having little angry, hairy children together, playing with them, and hugging them. I can see them, feel them; I miss their never being born. I guess, to some extent, her size and shape gave me the impression of what they were like. I dreamt of her grown old and grey, rheumy-eyed and wrinkle-faced, but the same glint of mischief in there, old together, dying together. I dreamt of her happy and professional, with the office job she always wanted and deserved, tapping away like Daisy Steiner at the Colwyn Bay Gazette. I dream about her, I worked for her. We only have one life, and I wanted her to share it. Our lost future.

Tonight, I’ve been rolling around and screaming to myself, biting furniture so our landlord can’t hear my moans upstairs. I’m aware I’m taking this very badly. I’ve gone through the classic stages, of denial, rage, guilt, etc, starting sadly with a cliched self-awareness that ties all this together but doesn’t undermine it, or weaken it. I’m left with an admiration for her bravery and resilience in the face of her heartbreak and my tears, and I’m trying very hard not to give in and beg to be taken back – because she’s right, it would be no good for us. Yet all I can think, from behind this swollen sagging face, hot and sore on cheekbones, eyelids and nosetip, is of our love. And every time I think it, a burst of sour untargetted passion hits me, and the crying starts again. Snot and spittle and shaking and my eardrums blasting with the tension of it all.

Goodbye Maria. I loved you, you I, but it’s not enough. Is this what being grown-up is like?

So welcome to Square One. Opportunities balanced against loss. Three years of love and commitment, squandered. First step, think hard if my job is something I still want to do. I wanted something that could provide for her; despite the wage I’ve not kept up with the bills, and I’ve lost lots of self-respect in making that choice. Time to stand on my own two feet?

Meantime, I’ll crack out the Morrissey, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, and cry some more.

Who then devised the torment? Love,

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

— W.H. Auden, Four Quarters. Little Gidding, IV (corrected attribution.)

Marketing A Gay Game

To The Tune Of: Tom Robinson Band – Glad To Be Gay

Again, this was a think-piece for a magazine that didn’t get used. The hypothetical situation was a game is about to released with a gay lead character; do you think that game would stand a chance at retail? If not, why not? If it landed on your desk, how would you go about marketing it? Here are my answers.

eNCHANT arM (Enchanted Arms) had a very strong gay character called Makoto.

I think it would stand the same chance at retail as any other game, but the clear point is that the gay character normally would not be relevant to the main thrust of the marketing – not because of homophobia, but because the gay demographic is just a subsection of the mainstream game-playing demographic. If I only targetted that audience, I’d be losing out on everyone else. It also matters if it were a tie-in or not – a game tied into a TV series like Will & Grace or Big Gay Al from South Park would obviously benefit from brand exploitation, but otherwise I wouldn’t bother marketing it that way.

That said, I’d definitely, budgets and time allowing, have a second prong of the marketing approach targetted at the gay community, and try and push it as a big story with the gay media, supporting that with developer access, interviews and possibly pull out survey data to explore whether the populace at large have a problem with the game; digging into the survey results could generate good news stories. It’s not something I’d hide, just not the main thrust of my marketing and PR unless we can find something mainstream to talk about.

I’d imagine that you might encounter those usual right-wing or religious organisations that stick to antiquated and/or arbitrary moral codes that would have a problem with the game, especially if the title has anything less than an 18-rating, but as a PR I’d let the UK rating authorities deal with whether it should be legal or not and just enjoy the extra sales generated by any controversy. That said, in the case of ultraviolent or sadistic games, it’s easy to take advantage of the media furore to increase sales for your game, while perhaps sharing qualms yourself about the moral value of the game; here, I’d argue that there’s a moral imperative for the company to pressure the rating authorities, saying that if there’s no violent or sexual content then the game should have the same rating irrespective of its homosexual content.

Thinking about the irrelevance of sexuality to the age-rating further; if a kid’s game explored human relationships in any real depth, I don’t think it would appeal to kids anyway and would be difficult to market, but if the lead character had a same-sex partner (like Noddy and Big-Ears, for example) and the game was enjoyable, then marketing it should be unproblematic. From a personal perspective,  there would be an additional moral imperative to make such a game a success.