This is a quote from Beau Willimon, the writer of ‘The First’, a new sci fi drama about a manned flight to Mars; “When I found out the distance from Mars to Earth means astronauts have a 20-minute delay communicating with ground control, I thought, if you record a message, send it, wait for them to record a reply and send it back, it’s an hour minimum. That instant contact isn’t there, and I thought that gap was interesting.”
An hour? What sort of gap is that? When my Dad was out in Africa, when I was a tot, it took three weeks to get a letter to him. It was the Mau Mau uprising, and yes, he was a part of the bullying colonial force out there. A different age. By the time he received a letter saying one of his children was ill, he knew the child was either better or dead. Or maybe, I suppose, hovering, semi-conscious, somewhere between the two. When my brother was stationed in British Guiana (now independent Guyana) it could take over a month to reach him because something had gone wrong with the usually wonderfully efficient BFPO service. If someone in the family died you might well hear about it after the funeral. Now, that’s what I call an interesting gap – not a paltry hour. Even 40 years later, when my daughter was sailing around the world on the yacht race Clipper ’96, it could take 12 hours for an email to reach her, sent by me to the maritime radio station at Portishead and painstakingly relayed by them. I didn’t realise that some poor soul had to sit typing out my rambling thoughts and stories about the dogs and the neighbours etc etc, and when I went to join her in Singapore I learnt that when the fax chirruped in the middle of the night,. somewhere on the high seas, and then screeds and screeds of paper were vomited out, the whole crew would yell, without looking at the message, “Lou! It’s yer bloody Mum again!”
Ah, well, it’s what you have parents for; to embarrass you.
I collected a Canadian friend from Gatwick today and after just an hour in this country she said, wonderingly, “People don’t smile here, do they?” She’s right, we don’t. I think that it’s probably hard for any nationality to feel full of good cheer and bonhomie in a huge soul-less airport but it’s sad that she noticed such a remarkable difference. And there’s a confirmation of her observation: as I had waited for her, watching the trickle of arrivals, all ages and sizes and colours and garb, I noticed one man in particular (yeah, OK, it was a man, and he was grizzled and lanky and loping and quite pleasing to the eye – SO? Don’t look at me like that) and this man came through the door, with a gentle diffidence, and then, seeing someone waiting for him he smiled a huge, easy, gentle, lovely, open smile. And I knew he was Canadian. And he was. There aren’t many things in my life I’m miffed about, but I’m just a tiny tad miffed that I wasn’t born in Canada. I might have learned to smile more. There’s a Welsh bloke in the church, a sweet man, and a wise one, and one to whom people go for help and counsel, but when he sees me he will always, always say something like “Smile, it might never happen!” or “Dew, you almost cracked a smile there.” or “Give us a smile, then!” and however I’ve been feeling up to that point, suddenly I am a failure, a grim faced old prune. He means no harm, he thinks he’s being funny but he makes me wish I had stayed at home. I’m glad the gun laws in this country are as stringent as they are.
When my friend arrived today, she sent a photo to her anxious Mum back in Canada. Two minutes later Mum received it. It’s all very well, this instant communication thing but it plays havoc with drama – information is relayed in minutes that once upon a time would have taken half an episode, villains are traced by their mobile phones, radio aerials can be used to determine everything from where a body is to where a lover met his lass, and just about every crime is displayed on CCTV. What’s a writer to do? How’s we meant to earn an honest bob or two these days, Guv’nor? It’s a right old pickle, and no mistake. So, good luck with that, Beau Willemon. I fear a certain amount of fake drama is about to be whipped up.
Sorry, I seemed to slip into Bob-Hoskins-does-My-Fair-Lady mode for a moment there.
Does driving agitate your mind? It does mine. I’ve been driving for 12 hours and my brain is racing like a very racing brain. I still feel the road beneath me, hear the roar of the engine, see the white lines sliding past. Which is odd because for at least 4 of those hours I was in a barely moving tailback on the M25.
I’m going to have a bowl of weetabix, watch a Wallender and maybe Skype two writing friends, then another Wallender, then a bit of writing, then stare at the ceiling and go over the whole of my life until my eyes bleed, and then make a cup of tea, and then I’ll ask a neighbour to come in and hit me on the head with a house brick.
Always does the trick.
PS. Well, all was well with my little plans until I tried to watch Wallender. Telly’s not working. You know, after a 12 hour driving day, and traffic jams, that’s enough to make a woman cry. Then I remembered – I can watch it at my desk, on my Mac. Not quite as relaxing but better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish.
PPS One of you lovely bloggites sent me this:
So many things in this made me laugh out loud. Thanks for spewing them onto the computer where I get instant notification they are there. 😝
Haha! Good point! So, I am a beneficiary of the instant communication I’m moaning about. Tsk.