Friday, 23 March 2007

Thursday (here's why I did not go to work today)

Nostalgia, like neuralgia, is a pain you seem to suffer from increasingly as you get older. I had a great dollop of it yesterday on a trip to the old workplace to see Alan Bennett, his film ‘The History Boys’ and a lot of old work friends and colleagues.

Mr Bennett chatted amiably about film and filming for forty minutes or so and was all you'd hope really. Then he made his excuses and left us to enjoy his film.

Great '80s soundtrack, lovely performances, though, unsurprisingly, very wordy, with the play of recurring images in dialogue the chief delight in the writing. The film follows a group of rather peculiar ‘80s Sheffield 6th formers (who film doesn't really disguise are a bit old to be in school still) who all seem to be very open and liberal about homosexuality in a way I don't recall South Yorkshire schoolboys of the time being at all.

This is the where, for me, cinema really suffers in comparison to theatre and radio, which can set their own rules. We come to film with expectations of naturalism that are hard to shake, because it looks so very like real life most of the time. Movies can end up struggling to get away with the murder they might like to in terms of creating their own worlds and conventions as a result.

One can't help feeling there might be a fair bit of idealised ‘50s Leeds in this idealised ‘80s Sheffield too. Bennett, as we, know came from the 'North' to study history at Oxford, much like his heroes, and it's impossible not to wonder if there’s a hint of autobiography in the piece, no matter how wary we are about such instincts. We don’t like to think our fictions are really all made up, somehow.

Whatever, it was genuinely moving, and extremely funny. Perhaps the oddest nostalgia inducing moment for me was the prominently displayed poster for the Crucible Theatre's early '80s production of Hamlet in the school, the programme for which lurks in a drawer not far from where I sit now. Real Proustian biccie mo.
Kevin 'Curly Watts' Kennedy was one of the gravediggers, I recall.

Afterwards, to the pub with a terribly large number of people, many of whom were far too lovely to me for words. Much beer downed and lots of cobblers talked, a few hugs exchanged and gossip swapped. Home by midnight by two trains and a brisk walk, quite pleasantly beer-sloshed in a way I’ve not been for a good while. Nowadays, if aiming for that level of inebriation I’d tend to head for wine. The two forms are rather different. I think I prefer wine now, it’s mellower and less hard on the bladder when walking cold streets at the witching hour.

Like the ‘80s of the film, the workplace wasn't quite as I remembered it ( I'm at one remove from the place now, and, I suspect, see it more as its public does these days), but close enough to make me smile and remember the happier moments more than the bleak ones. The people are any organisation's best asset and most of the people there are sensational, no matter what name the place has or what structure is being applied to it, it’s nothing without them.

Eee, the Plague Years- best days of our lives. We were poor, being wiped out arbitrarily and viciously by an unforgiving and unreasoning force and covered in suppurating boils but we were happy.

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