EuroFiles

Welcome to the first issue of EuroFiles.

Remember Terms and Conditions Apply, starring Dave Camshaft, Nick Clogg, Eddie Moribund, Nigella Garage et al? With many of the real-life politicians no longer in power, I often wonder if that play put a jinx on them!

Camshaft, Clogg and Moribund in my kitchen

(L to R) Camshaft, Moribund and Clogg at ease in my Herefordshire home

Public attention has now turned to Europe, leading me to a brand new satire – The Yellow Box. This doesn’t set out to mock our senior political envoys in Eurocratica who, after all, send themselves up far better than I ever could. Nor does it make fun of our Parliamentary representatives (MEPs) since you could only mock them if you knew who they were – and nobody does.

Instead The Yellow Box lays bare the workings of the Eurocratic Club. How are new rules dreamt up? Which countries are allowed membership? How did it all start, and where is it heading? That sort of thing …

Bristles HQ

The engine room of the Club is a basement office in the bowels of Bristles, where a burgeoning army of Greys meets from Monday to Thursday to bandy ideas around and shift grey boxes (plus one mysterious yellow one) to and fro in a semblance of efficiency. Vital matters are thrashed out, such as the curve of a cucumber, the minimum size for an Atlantic pollock, whether a swede can be called a turnip, and whether it’s okay to eat your pet pony.

The Club doubles in size as most countries in Western Eurocratica rush to join, and doubles again when Eastern Eurocratica applies for membership en masse. The ponderous beast then spreads its hold through Middle Easternness and Far Eastern Regions, testing the commitment of the basement box shifters.

Over the next few weeks I’ll unveil some of the play’s characters – such as Wisecrack Grey, Finski Feelgood the tai chi instructor, and The Senior. Although they’re entirely fictional, you might feel that one character, the Angel of Mercy – Leader of Germolena and prospective Head of Planet Earth – seems rather familiar.

If you enjoyed Terms and Conditions Apply, and have a taste for sitcoms like Yes Minister, The Office or W1A, then The Yellow Box is made for you. It digs relentlessly at everything bureaucratic – or in this case Eurocratic – with office banter that sails close to the probable truth yet harms nobody.

Having been media-bombarded in recent years with political rhetoric about what is best for you, here’s a chance to explore an amusing alternative Euroscape – from the safety of your own theatre seat!

YB Poster Main Proof5 030417

In the next issue: Finski Feelgood – the tai chi instructor.

The Yellow Box – written and directed by Paul Costello

Bookings:  www.themarkettheatre.com

Copyright © Paul Costello    August 2017

http://www.paulcostello.me

Cool and Angry

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote:

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. Travel for travel’s sake. And to write about it afterwards, if only the public will be so condescending as to read.”

I’m no Stevenson, but it’s true that escaping from daily routines into unfamiliar territory does create writing opportunities. I mean, if I were to write repeatedly along the lines of, “Today I vacuumed upstairs, and then cleaned the loo” – well, I know what it would do to my readership figures. If, on the other hand, I told people about a tearaway Tenby pensioner on a souped up mobility scooter, or a man chasing a chihuahua in Chichester – well, people might want to read more.

My earliest recollection of travel, from the 50s and 60s, is family holidays in the West Country. We often stayed in a Tintagel B&B – dear old Mrs Hooper, she made lovely jam tarts. I remember as much about the seven-hour journeys on minor roads, five of us hot and bothered in an Austin A40, as I do about the places we went.

At 17, self-determined escapism took over as I became cool and angry. I no longer wanted to be at school, and grabbed every opportunity not to be. In the space of a year I went from something of a ‘golden boy’ destined for Oxbridge to a pupil who “constantly refused to be roused, led or driven”.

For me, but not many others, this was great. Instead of attending 8.45 register, which I likened to a prisoner of war roll call, I’d be on my way to the Dyke Road Café to enjoy much-deserved thick tea and a Wills Woodbine fag (unfiltered) which the be-slippered Gladys sold singly at a penny a time. My accomplice, Pete Blanch, and I could be cool and angry together, and only repair to school when we felt ready.

The teacher taking the register was Mr Pratt. Today that name would make him a sitting duck, but the word prat as a put-down was not as commonly used then as it is now. Instead, he was known as Nolly, a play on the alcoholic beverage called Noilly Prat. This was intellectual grammar school humour at its finest. Bring back grammar schools, I say, so that more of us can be intellectually humorous. Yes – follow the lead of ex-grammar school Theresa May. She’s a bundle of laughs.

“… cocktails have exotic names like Shag on the Beach …”

Noilly Prat was one of those drinks like Martini and Dubonnet in vogue at the time. Nowadays it’s shots or cocktails. Shots come in tiny glasses I’d happily buy as egg cups in my local kitchen shop. The suspiciously-coloured contents, with names like Raspberry Ripple or Choc Mint, presumably taste like medicine, going by the speed at which young people knock them back and their screwed-up faces afterwards.

Cocktails are much more sophisticated. They come with exotic names like Three Times a Night, A Good Shag and Shag on the Beach. Or at least that’s what I heard young people offering each other when I inadvertently stumbled into a music bar the last time I was in Torremolinos, believing from the giant neon sign THROB and the rhythmic pulse from within that’d I’d finally found the heart clinic I’d been reading about in a magazine on the flight over.

About the same time as the Tintagel trips I’d had my first drinking encounter. One Saturday night when my parents were ensconced in the living room with Grandma and Grandpa watching the Billy Cotton Band Show (“Wakey Wakey!” for the initiated) I conducted an experiment in the dining room next door, taking great swigs from each bottle in the sideboard to see what this drinking thing was all about. After all, they were always at it and seemed very happy in consequence.

I remember becoming very flu-like and unable to stand properly, and braved interrupting Billy Cotton to tell mum I felt poorly. She soon spotted the cause, and like any good mum helped me through a dreadful few hours.

Another favourite escape from the tedium of education was nearby Seven Dials, a busy roundabout with seven exits. To me this exuded life in a way that school didn’t. Where exactly was the Corona Drinks truck going? What number bus would arrive next, where would it stop and what was its destination?

One of the seven roads led to Brighton Railway Station, a place of great bustle and excitement where, with steam hanging on alongside electric trains, I’d once spent many an hour with my Ian Allan book of Southern Locomotives.

A second road led past the wonderful but now-defunct Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, where I’d had a kidney operation as a young boy. My consultant, Mr Laust, was a household name for years, such had been my parents’ understandable concern for me at the time.

“Mr Laust – what a wonderful man. We owe him so much.”

This was true, though I suppose that ten years later, as a cool and angry young man, it didn’t cut quite the same ice rolled out time after time in front of visiting uncles and aunts.

Another road led to the intellectual school for girls, Brighton and Hove High School. Swapping my Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School scarf for Pauline Dove’s High School one was to prove one of many factors that in themselves didn’t amount to much but strung together made a watertight case for my expulsion – in the school’s eyes anyway.

“… Blanch never got caught, the little shit …”

Here’s the thing – Blanch never got caught. It was always me. Blanch boxed clever, sometimes registering with Nolly Pratt before joining me for a cuppa, and sometimes getting his amenable mum to phone him in sick before handing him the cash for a bus direct to the café. He wanted to tag along all right, and reap the kudos. And don’t get me wrong, he was okay as an accomplice. But apart from one memorable bike ride he never really initiated anything. And never got caught, the little shit.

Late one evening Blanch pointed at a dirty old motorbike and said:

“Look – it’s a Triumph Bonneville! Let’s ’ave it!”

After glancing round furtively, we hopped on and headed away from his dark and dead Rottingdean estate towards the bright lights. Whenever Blanch accelerated I hurtled backwards on pillion, trying to hang on to something, anything.  A cool and angry young man would never grasp the boy in front, and there was no frame to grab at the rear, so my poor legs were left to do all the gripping. We roared along the seafront road, and before reaching Brighton, reckoning that word of the bike’s disappearance might soon get round, parked it neatly kerbside in Marine Drive before sauntering into the town centre for a late coffee. That was the only time I’ve ridden pillion; somehow it held no further appeal.

The summer after I was given permanent school leave, Blanch and I hitch-hiked to Malmö in Sweden. Hitching was popular in those days, and relatively safe. I thumbed lifts for almost a decade, and apart from a cleric in West Germany whose conversation turned quickly to small boys, and a dapper old man in a Jag near Reigate who wasn’t entirely sure where to find the gear lever, I was never troubled. You’d see queues of young people at every roundabout and slip-road, and though there’d be long periods of waiting you’d eventually get to your destination. It might not be the place you first planned – but that’s the unpredictability of travelling!

“… philately wasn’t cool and angry … losing virginity was…”

Ostensibly Blanch and I were in pursuit of two Swedish birds we’d befriended at the Starlight Rooms, a pleasantly gloomy basement club in a charmingly grubby Brighton back street. Still looking to lose my virginity, the only thing I actually lost was my stamp collection, which I’d taken Ingrid’s dad as a present after she told me he was a keen collector. I suppose I thought if I took him the stamps then I could take Ingrid. A small price, since philately was not for the cool and angry, whereas losing virginity was. It was of course a matter of days before Ingrid and I lost touch, leaving me feeling a little foolish.

When Blanch and I started arguing I hitched home separately, never to see him again. Some time afterwards I heard he’d got heavily into drugs. Serves him right, the little shit. I suppose I should be grateful he helped point me to the school exit, but it would’ve been nice if just once it had been him, not me, being hauled into the headmaster’s office.

After three terms of misdemeanour, on a day when I’d not only been spotted hanging around the Seven Dials again but was wearing an alien scarf, I received my ultimate summons. On this occasion, instead of heading for the cane rack Mr Brogden simply said:

“Costello, I don’t want you here any more. Goodbye.”

Understandably, my parents weren’t impressed, although they’d no doubt been kept informed of my wrongdoings and had witnessed their own share of ‘cool and angry’ at home.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “I can now go to the Dyke Road Café or the Seven Dials all day, and no-one will mind.”

Which for some considerable time I’m sure I did.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2016

www.paulcostello.me

 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO BECOME A FAMOUS WRITER

It’s a lonely occupation, writing.

Not a team effort, like Consequences where each person writes something and folds the paper before passing it on:

I’ve done a line – now you do one,’ and, ‘Wow, that’s a good story we’ve written together!’

Instead you isolate yourself in a small room, or on a park bench or some rocks looking out to sea, push people away and refuse to share what you’ve written until you are good and ready.

61-2So why do it when it seems so antisocial? All right, there’s a degree of self-indulgence, even obsession. But there’s also a need for introspection, a desire to dig out the perfect words and combinations of words that express your thoughts in the way you wish the reader to receive them, words with lasting value.

But having written these perfect words – what then? Who wants to read them and how will people know they exist? Does anyone know who you are or what you write, and if they do, what makes your writing so vital compared with others’? You write something you think witty and original, yet it’s only read by your brother and great-niece. You yearn for conversations at the bus stop like:

‘Hello there. Here’s a sample of my work. Look, great word – barnacle! And see how I string it together with ship’s hull and cling! Fabulous, eh?’

‘Awesome! How do you do that?’ the stranger would say. ‘It would never have occurred to me. If only I was a writer too – the joy you must have hour upon hour.’

‘Well, thanks. But if you’ll excuse me – I now have more writing to get on with.’

The problem of channelling creative work spans all art forms. A painting or sculpture comes from the artist’s imagination, a design or invention from a fertile mind. But do they have validity or purpose if no-one else sees or uses them? Is their creation only a part of the artistic process, which isn’t complete until seen and judged by a core number of people? Does the work need to be in the public domain to have any worth, or is its value solely in the eyes and mind of the creator?

I do get self-gratification from writing, but somehow it’s not enough. I also choose to believe that my work may eventually be praised more widely – that my blogs won’t go unfollowed, my plays will be performed, and bigger projects won’t be ignored or rejected by those who hold the power to ignore or reject.pc web 5

Perhaps it’s a question of time. Many so-called great artists, composers and writers were never recognised in their lifetimes, the value of their work only attributed years after death, and even then its value waxing and waning according to fashion or monetary moods. Authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen fade from time to time but resurface to catch the imagination of new readers; with each new Government, schools and colleges chop and change ideas about literary value; and colourful marketing ploys can paint eighty shades of what a book is really worth. There seems no right or wrong.

Perhaps I should trust that long after I’ve gone, my tales of far-off travel will be stumbled upon by someone who cares; my pot-pourri of life observations in cafes and pubs, on trains and planes will go down as masterpieces; my tales of characters whose lives I fleetingly enter will become literary gems; my plays will be performed in forty different languages; and University Libraries will point dedicated students of irony and general madness to the section marked C for Costello.

Biographers will queue to expose how in my high chair I was force-fed tapioca; how as a parka-clad Lambretta-Boy I threatened my dad with a crash helmet and forever lived with the memory; how I sweated in bed for three weeks after giving up sixty Marlborough a day; and how I wrote a book about Bed and Breakfast that posthumously became a landmark publication for the leisure industry.

Historians will use my life trajectory as the very model for writers who fail to get recognised when they most need it. Politicians will fashionably latch on, prefacing keynote statements with,

‘As Paul Costello would have said …’

And in the year 2076 a lucky researcher trawling through a crusty second-hand bookshop will discover personal musings tucked inside an early edition of Utterly Undiscovered – and think,

‘How did this man go forgotten for so long?’Ledbury sunset

As more and more comes to light, and even my autograph fetches a fortune in Sotheby’s Auction Rooms, the estate will benefit too, since royalty instructions come with everything I write.

Sat on my writing cloud at sunset, I’ll feel delighted that my work ultimately brought such joy – and know it was all worth it.

Please send royalties to:

Account Name:                     Paul Granville Costello                                                               Bank Name:                          Great Writers at Rest (GWR)                                                     Sort Code:                            Already sorted

Tip: If you have just discovered this article, you’re the first. Keep quiet and get it insured.

Paul Costello Copyright © March 2014

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello. Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

www.paulcostello.me