Swimming Lessons

Hello,

Despite a fantastic weekend at Gregynnog, I’m still miserable about the election. i’ve completely lost faith in the British public and have lost myself in the dizzying pointlessness of facebook arguments.

To be clear: Fuck you, Britain.

I have found solace in this quote by Roman poet, Horace (Horace is a great name isn’t it?):
‘Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it’

So in order to change my perspective to a positive one I’m going to arrogantly assume that I will somehow turn into a creative genius because I’m in a bad mood.

So that no one assumes I’m an even more unbearably pretentious tit who reads Roman poetry, I didn’t; I just googled quotes about adversity, mind your fucking business.

I’m working on a radio play at the minute about overcoming an anxiety disorder through learning to swim. Here’s a quick sample from the beginning, any feedback would be appreciated. Now that we have a strong Tory government we should all have more free time to read shit on the internet all day.

Swimming Lessons

MARK (VO)

‘Calm down would you’ I hate this. I get it a lot. As if the phrase itself was a cure. It’s not, it’s a cold lonely wall built by someone who can’t understand. It’s 1999 I’ m at the Woodcraft folk summer camp. Woodcraft is like boy scouts for hippies. I wasn’t a hippy. I wasn’t anything yet, just a 9 year old boy. I like Pokemon cards, Liverpool football club, Lego, WWF and the spice girls. I don’t tell anyone I like the spice girls but we all sang the songs along together, me and my friends are changing words that rhyme with dirty words to annoy the girls. It’s a warm summers day. We’re walking through the woods, laughing and singing, stopping every now and again to splash our faces with water from the stream. We’re in a thick forest but we could tell it was hot every time a rouge sunbeam caught our faces. Jamie, our group leader calls back and tells us to keep up. He is kind and always smiles, but he has this constant look of worry in his eyes, I think to myself ‘he’s probably just worried about looking after a big group of excited children’.I’m running to catch up when I hear a rustle and a bump behind me, then a small cry. I turn around and see Lucy had tripped on a root and is lying on her front in the grass, she looks hurt and her face had gone bright red with embarrassment. I think I am the only one who had seen her. I run towards her shouting ‘are you ok?’. I stand next her too embarrassed to touch her, so I kick the root she had fallen over and start shouting ‘naughty root!’ It works, she smiles then laughs and leaps to her feet again. I fill with confidence knowing I can make her laugh. then I get this warm excited feeling in my stomach. She holds my hand and says:

LUCY

You can be Superted and I’ll be Mr.Spott.

MARK (VO)

I’m smiling, but still very nervous that she’s holding my hand. Too nervous to enjoy the moment. We start running back to the group hand in hand and my heart starts racing and I start shouting and laughing, everything is forgotten, the sun keeps bursting through the trees and hitting my face. Jamie says we’re going to play capture the flag. There’s going to be one team on each side of the river. The older children join us and we play all afternoon. Me and Lucy race through the woods laughing, sniggering whilst we hide. I fall over at some point, the grass is so soft and warm that I don’t really care, I lie there panting with my arms spread out an the sun on my face. Where’s Lucy? I can hear her breath as she approaches crouched down to hide herself from the other team. It’s days like this that stick out in my memory from childhood. There was probably more to the day by my mind just seems to remember the strong bits and the good bits, I prefer it that way. Lucy doesn’t feature much in my memories after this, not because she wasn’t there, but because this isn’t a love story, and things were never as good in my mind for along time after this.

MUSIC: ‘TRICKY – TRIBAL DRUMS’ 30 SECONDS

MARK

It’s a year later and a new millennium. I’m getting picked on in school because I have a stupid haircut and my mum keeps sending me to school in a pink backpack saying things like:

MUM

We can’t afford anything else. If your worried about people picking on you just tell them this: ‘Pink’s just a colour and if you think it’s gay, then you must be very insecure about yourself!’

MARK (VO)

I don’t know what insecure means, I try telling my mum that if I said that they would hit me or push me. She then says:

MUM

Well then you should go straight to the teacher.

MARK

My dad enters the room and tuts when he hears this, he says:

DAD

If they hit you kick the biggest one in the balls, they won’t hit you again after that.

MARK (VO)

They argue about this whilst I imagine myself kicking someone that terrifies me, it feels good to do it in my imagination, but I know I could’t do it in real life. So I worry about it. I hide the bag under some rocks on the walk to school. I get in trouble for not brining a pen or my books to school and I worry. my mum asks where where my bag went and I tell her it was stolen. She knows I’m lying and grounds me. I don’t know what grounding is and I’m not allowed out with my friends very often because my mum thinks its too dangerous. I prefer playing lego on my own and I’m only 10. But the message is clear and I feel guilty, so I keep worrying about all these things. I worry about going to school and getting picked on, and then I worry a lot more about coming home and explaining the situation to my parents and receiving useless advice. I find myself worrying most of the time about strange things.

MUSIC: ‘TRICKY – TRIBAL DRUMS’ 30 SECONDS

MARK (VO)

I’m late to school one day. I walk into the class already embarrassed and anxious. I hate attention. Children start laughing, they all laugh. The teacher smirks, then tells them to be quiet. I look down and see I’ve spilt a drink on my trousers, it looks like I’ve peed myself. They keep laughing as I sit down. They poke me and laugh through most of the lesson, then for the rest of the day. Someone kicks me in the back of the leg as I walk down the corridor. I’m scared. I ignore him and walk faster. 

SOUND: Children laughing, mocking and throwing insults.

MARK (VO)

I get home and feel terrible. Utterly miserable. I don’t really connect feeling terrible with what happened. I suppose you just live in the moment as a child.

MUM

Are you ok Mark?

MARK (VO)

No I’m not. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want you to find out and I don’t want your stupid, useless advice.

Young MARK

I’m alright…

MUM

Are you sure? You seem quiet.

MARK (VO)

Leave me alone…please.

YOUNG MARK

I’m fine, I’m just tired.

MARK (VO)

She carries on this way all evening. She says I need to go to bed earlier. She says she will stop buying sweets for the house because there’s too much sugar in them. She says I need to get more exercise. I sit and half listen, worrying about nothing, worrying about why I feel so sad. Later on I’m worrying about being late tomorrow. I lie in bed worrying that I’ll oversleep and be late again. I worry about how much sleep I’m getting. I don’t sleep all night. I’m not late because I haven’t slept. I feel terrible and worried all day. People are still laughing at me, I fall asleep in the canteen and someone dumps a milkshake on my head, I wake up cold and shocked to the sounds of people laughing at me. I spend the rest of the day with wet hair reeking of old milk. I’m too scared and worried to say anything to anyone and walk home miserable at the end of the day.

DAD

What’s the matter Mark?

YOUNG MARK

Nothing why?

DAD

You look like you’ve tried to gel your hair with whipped cream, what happened?

YOUNG MARK

Nothing. What do you mean?

DAD

Look, don’t bloody lie to me. Your uniform’s a mess as well. What the hell have you been doing at school?

MARK (VO)

Just leave me alone. Do you think I did this on purpose?

YOUNG MARK

Nothing…I just…

DAD

Get to your room. You can come when you decide to tell me the truth.

MARK (VO)

I don’t come out of my room all evening. I make things with lego blocks, but stop every so often because I can’t concentrate on anything but worrying about nothing in particular. That night is one of the worst I can remember. I don’t want to fall asleep at school and definitely don’t want to be late. I count eight hours before the time I need to wake up and go to bed two hours earlier to be on the safe side. The sun is still setting as I go to bed and everything feels wrong. I worry and don’t sleep, because I’m worrying about going to sleep. I’m constantly looking at the clock, counting how much sleep I’m going to get but not getting any. I feel horrible, sweating with worry, jolts of stiffening frustration. I scream into my pillow, surprisingly it doesn’t help me get to sleep. I must have fallen asleep eventually, it must have been sometime after thee because I remember a jolt of horror watching the neon green lights of my alarm clock in the pitch black go from 2:59 to 3:00. I’m a miserable mess the next day at school. I consider telling someone about what’s happening. But I don’t know how or what I would say, and I’m too scared I’d be laughed or shouted at. Over the next few weeks it gets worse. I convince myself that if I go to bed any time before ten o clock I won’t sleep all night and be late for school. Some nights I sleep, some nights I don’t. And always, I’m worrying. My bodies stiff, my eyes hurt and I forget the last time I felt happy as weeks turn to months and months turn to years.

SOUND: Music

It’s October 2005. I’m 15, I’m quieter that I’ve ever been and I’ve got curling brown shoulder length hair that hides most of my face. I play a lot of computer games, I cycle around the village and the surrounding hills most evenings. I found an old weights bench in the garden shed left there by the last owner and use it most days. I don’t know why, but vanity probably had a lot to do with it. I’ve been saving money from a paper round for a year and I’ve bought myself a video camera. The few friends I’ve made are like me, broken and strange, that’s why I like them. We film stupid videos of ourselves, made up films about psychopath murderers and international kung fu tournaments. I’m not unhappy, I’m not sad. I just don’t think about it, I suppose you don’t consider how you should feel when your young. I live in the moment and some moments are good, some moments are horrible and awkward. I worry a lot. Often about nothing, sometimes about things that no one has ever worried about before. I still have to go to bed at 10, except on weekends, otherwise I don’t sleep all night. People at school seem to know instinctively that I’m strange and awkward and take the piss out of me for that reason alone. I try and ignore it but it gives me a constant feeling that I’m being judged, probably why I was so quiet. One Friday my friend Alex walks over to me as I’m pushing my bike up the hill home. His eyes are bright red, he’s laughing uncontrollably at a bananana in his hand. he sees me and smiles and holds something up to me.

alex

(Laughing)

Want some?

MARK

What is it?

ALEX

Weeeeeeed…Simon gave it to me.

MARK

Your stepdad?

ALEX

He’s not my stepdad.

MARK

(Sarcastically)

Well…He is.

ALEX

(Laughing)

Yeah. I suppose he is. Technically. He’s still a prick though. So we’ll refer to him as Simon the prick.

MARK

But Simon the prick is still your stepdad, he lives in your house, and he shags your mum.

ALEX

Shut up. I’m not calling him stepdad, it’s weird. He’s just a doley who lives in my house, and smells like old beer…Anyway, you want some or not?

MARK

Umm, what does it do?

ALEX

It just makes you tired, and laugh a lot, and relax… Be perfect for you.

MARK

Umm, I don’t know. Is it safe?

ALEX

Yeah…As long as you don’t mind shitting your pants and bleeding from your eyes as you die a slow death confessing all of your weirdest secrets.

MARK

tssk. Fine. Whatever.

SOUND: Inhaling joint.

SOUND: Coughing.

ALEX

(Laughing)

Good stuff isn’t it?

MARK

I don’t know do I? I’m hardly an expert.

ALEX

Trust me it’s good stuff.

MARK

What’s this? The third joint of your life and you’ve turned into Howard Marks?

ALEX

Who’s Howard Marks?

MARK

Really? Famous international Welsh drug dealer.

ALEX

Whatever. How do you feel?

MARK

I don’t know. How am I supposed to feel? The same really. My hearts beating faster? Is that normal?

ALEX

(Sarcastically)

No. Your going to die.

MARK

Don’t say that, you know what I’m like.

ALEX

You’ll be fine. It does that for a bit then it stops. You’ll be fine.

MARK

Yeah…I’ll be fine.

MARK (VO)

I definitely don’t feel fine. My heart’s pounding and every movement I make suddenly feels weird and out of my control. My hands are throbbing, I’m acutely aware of every vein in my body and the blood flowing through it. I look at my hands and sit on the floor cutting everything else out. I start imagining hot blood coming out of every orifice in my body, and suddenly every muscle in my body relaxes and everything become strangely brighter. I start thinking of the way people speak and how ridiculous they sound. With their strange nuanced accents, and then everything that was once connected and taken for granted in my head becomes detached and strange but also beautiful and interesting at the same time…I feel peaceful and relaxed, but furiously curious and alive. I don’t want this feeling to end and I start laughing at the thought of my parents talking in high pitched Italian accents.

ALEX

(Laughing)

What’s it like down there?

MARK

What?

MARK (VO)

I realise I’ve been sat on the floor staring at the veins in my arms and hand for the best part of ten minutes with Alex sniggering at me. 

MARK

Umm, it’s ok. Shall we get chips?

ALEX

(Laughing)

Yeah, why not?

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2 thoughts on “Swimming Lessons

  1. Sounds good Frank! You made good use of the weekend. For some reason, I find the 5th VO part (“They argue about this…”) doesn’t flow as well as the rest of it, but that could be just the way I’m reading it. It’s a good story and feels very personable, which is always good IMO.

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