Fun at Radio 4, and the not so secret life

Here is one of those somewhat garbled posts.

This week has varied from the fascinating on Monday and Tuesday to the f’kin awful today.  

The fascinating was being at BBC Birmingham for the recording of the play. I don’t have one of those jetsetting lifestyles where the average day consists of a hastily grabbed latte (or something, I don’t know, the coffees with the funny names that mean “milky coffee” or, “really strong coffee”.  I drink tea) and a croissant before sitting on a train for a few hours with a laptop, balancing overpriced tea ferried via exhausted staff and a mobile phone in their hands, then rushing into a monolithic building for a meeting, then they stay in a hotel conveniently located for local strip clubs, waking up at 7am feeling bleak and exhausted.

Getting a train and visiting a new place is a complete novelty to me, as is staying in hotels next to strip clubs, so I was rather excitable, and so was Rob. Even though it was Birmingham.  (Birmingham.  Birmingham has the oddest museum I have ever visited.  Some of its exhibits included a glass cup circa 1985 and a display of, “Voices of Birmingham” or something similar, where schoolchildren had the chance to show the public how they felt about their hometown.  There was one, “Birmingham is a hole lol” and a lot of, “Shania is FIT” type things scrawled haphazardly on coloured paper).

The BBC building is vast and modern.  The Midlands news is filmed there, which Rob was delighted about.  There is a Dalek on the first floor and the reception took a photo of us standing next to it.  

The studio was big, with a glass partition and those wonderful old 1970s clocks.  It had wooden walls so it reminded me of one of those amateur porn sets.

I’ve never been inside a proper radio studio (“All in the Mind” was tiny, two mics, one with a little face drawn on it so I felt rude speaking into it), and Fiona gave us the tour.  I was shocked; I had assumed that radio dramas were recorded in one place next to a microphone and that all the sound effects were added later.  What there actually was were a series of rooms, of varying size, one of which was totally padded with jagged sponge to make one sound as though they were far away.  There was a staircase that led to nowhere which had different types of material glued on so that the sounds of wood and carpet and metal could be made.  There was a props box (I had fun with the horn), a piano, even a set of doorbells all for the front doors of fictional houses, each with their own sound.

I had my camera with me but didn’t take too many photos because I felt that it would be a bit rude to shove my lens in people’s faces.  I regret that a little bit now. 

We met the cast, which was utterly surreal.  Amazingly, they managed to get an actress called Seainin to play me, and even more amazingly, Belfast once again yields to its tininess- Seainin is the cousin of one of my childhood best friends.  See, people may roll their eyes when an American asks an Irishman, “Do you know Kitty Murphy?  She lives in Galway”, but more often than not, the chances are that eventually one will say, “Oh! Kitty Murphy?  Is that Mary Murphy’s daughter?  She used to be called Mary Heenan?” “YES! That’s her!” and there will be much joy.

It was a relief, though, as absolutely nobody in the world can convincingly imitate a Belfast accent if they’re not from there.  I had imagined an English woman studying clips of Iain Paisley’s speeches and taking notes. 

That there’s an actress who’ll have a portrayal of me on her CV, and an actor with Rob on his, was also extremely surreal.  (They’re called Seainin Brennan and Joseph Kloska, if you’d like to google them, fact fans.  Rob was jealous of Joseph’s lovely hair). 

Before I left, Lou (the writer) handed me a little bag.  In it was a card and a gift, and the gift was a moleskine notebook, the kind that Proper Writers like Hemingway use.  I didn’t know what to say, I’m terrible at receiving gifts, but it was so lovely and it’s sitting next to me right now, respectfully empty.  I usually have one of those Chubb hardback notebooks that I carry around but it’s disposable so I just end up doodling in it.  This deserves proper writing, arch observations, little scraps of reality.  I want to buy a proper pen to go with it. 

It was fun, and everybody there was fantastic.  We joked around and had food and chatted and I felt involved and excited.  We spent the night in a hotel, an impossibly fancy thing for us, even though our view was burger shops in Birmingham.  We watched Stewart Lee and ill-advisedly necked two bottles of cheap wine, just because it seemed like the done thing in a hotel.  On the second day I was an hour and a half late due to an onset of near-fainting in the hotel lobby (not at all embarrassing, eh) and having to lie down again.  Even more embarrassingly, because I hadn’t slept long enough, I had a Seroquel hangover and am pretty sure I was slurring.  

The recording lasted a day and a half. It was so strange to be there while people acted out scenes from my life and received direction and knobs were fiddled (fnar).  I occasionally had to leave the room because there were things about my dad I couldn’t listen and there was some quite harrowing stuff I found painful.

I deliberately didn’t offer too much feedback to Lou’s script- firstly because it’s her play and not mine, secondly because she’s an incredibly talented writer and I am a blogger but thirdly because I am too close to it to be objective and I would pick apart everything for that reason, and it would never have been made. Although Lou was incredibly respectful of both me and the blog.   I kept a bit of a distance and didn’t realise until I was actually there how hardcore some of it would be.   I think it’s neccessarily hardcore, though.  If it was just a fluffy little play about ha-ha the mentals then it would be pointless.   

The dad stuff I found impossible to sit through but I’m glad it’s in there.  He is massively important to me, and I have written about him often.  The rest of my family don’t feature so much, but I did ask for them not to, as I didn’t want to piss anyone off, or invade anyone’s privacy.  Although now my sisters are sad they don’t get roles! 

Because of the way my dad lived, and died, I have always felt that I should tell people that just because he was an alcoholic, it doesn’t mean he was a Jeremy Kyle-ite abusive bad father.  He was just a lovely man destroyed by his drinking.  Media portrayals of alcoholics so often fall into the stereotypes of the fusty academic, the drowning housewife, the middle class man who drinks to cope with pressure, or the working class man who drinks and kicks the shit out of his wife.  My dad wasn’t like that, and neither are many of the others out there who succumbed like he did.  And it wasn’t his fault.  So I am thankful that he’s in there. 

It begins with my hospitalisation and diagnosis and goes from there, in the early stages of treatment and of this blog.   It doesn’t progress in a straight line, as it shouldn’t, because life doesn’t work that way.  It follows all the little things we deal with then; trying to accept the diagnosis, the medication and all its side effects, coping at work, coping with feeling as though we’re going mad, and with the knowledge that everybody can see it happening. 

It has lots of light, though, and we did get a “bollocks” in there.   A bollocks on Radio 4 in the afternoon!  It is about the blog as much as anything else and the inclusion of comments, which I was initially not very enthused about, works well and adds to the sense of a mentalist community (which we are, let’s be honest).  There are scenes interspersed with blog voiceovers.  The Insane Guide…features, hurrah!  I should write more Insane Guides.

The stuff between me and Rob is touching and bittersweet.  The Rob in it has a bit of Rob’s strangeness (I never know what Rob is going to say when he opens his mouth).  I hope that people do find it interesting and enlightening, although it can be challenging listening as it isn’t a sugar-coated portrayal of mental illness.  I’m glad about that, as bipolar disorder tends to be the one where someone is a bit depressed one day then writes some beautiful poems.  It does portray the cyclical, incapacitating and relentless nature as some people experience it.  The style its written in has some rapid, overlapping dialogue and music during the more manic times, which I think will be effective.  

It doesn’t cop out, either.  There is no tidy resolution where the protagonist is suddenly fine and trumpets blare and the world is put to rights.  Some might see that as fatalistic but it’s more so realistic.  All too often in portrayals of mental illness, the result is suicide or total recovery.  There is the dull middle ground; it goes on and on.

In short, it’s a well written, well acted play that I hope will make people think, and laugh, and empathise with and help demystify a tricky subject, and also maybe will further the whole, “People with mental illness are just people! Who’d have thunk it?” idea.  As with everything, some people won’t like it, some people will.  And Boy Cat and Girl Cat are in it, so it will be the best thing on Radio 4 in the history of Radio 4.  I have yet to hear it in its finished form so I’m as much in the dark as you as to how it will all sound.  It has some fantastic music in it, too.   I’m chuffed to be able to attempt to indoctrinate people with my tastes.  

It was a pretty weird experience.  Unrepeatable, and I’m so glad I’ve been involved, and that I was there.    I’m getting the CDs so will send them to my family.  My granny is dying to hear it.

Because I am paranoid, here is some clarification/context on a few things.

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