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It was the first meeting of the day and he was trying to pay attention. He had just caught himself day dreaming again. He tried to tune into what the Marketing Manager was saying, but his monotonous, pompous tone droned on in an irritating hum. The facts and statistics rolling across his tongue and flopping on to the floor where they died of boredom. He looked down at his notes then began to doodle. The Marketing Manager went on and on, then on some more. His shirt collar was too tight and the fat of his neck rolled over the top of it, wobbling with every shake and nod of his head. He pointed at graphs, quotes and pie charts. A chubby index finger tracing the thin line of upward trajectory and projected success. A stock photo of an AB1 couple lapping up satisfaction brought to them by something more than a product, ‘an experience!’.

He caught his colleagues eye, she blinked in mock disbelief and raised both hands to her chest mimicking a gasp and the beaming pleasure of someone blessed with such a product. He coughed to stifle a giggle then looked back up at the marketing manager and lent forward slightly narrowing his eyes a little to fake interest.

‘Any questions?’ The Marketing Manager scanned the table wide eyed. Some one should ask a question it was protocol, it was only polite. He rattled his brain trying to shake something of interest gleaned from the presentation from his dulled mind.

The meeting limped to a close with just enough time to dash to the supermarket and grab a cheese and pickle sandwich for lunch before the next conference call. He eats at his desk unaware of texture or taste. He swallows each mouthful hardly chewed, depositing a heavy ball of bland mush that refuses to be digested in his stomach, leaving him full, fueled but not satisfied. He checks his email absentmindedly wiping crumbs from his chin. He types an email with one hand whilst reaching for the second half of his sandwich with the other. His eyes flick from left to right across the screen. He reads one message while thinking of the reply to another. He  finishes typing an email with one hand while answering his phone. He breaks off the conversation, terminating the call as he sits down around the meeting table, introducing himself to the people who are on the other end of the conference call. He begins to write a ‘to do’ list as he listens in. The people at the other end of the line peruse their email in-box as someone takes their turn to talk. Everyone half listens and gets on with something else.

*****

Her blouse is pressed and her trousers creased in all the right places. Her hair is tied up, out of her eyes and out of her way. She picks up a piece of paper and places it on top of the fresh, warm pile of printed sheets. She wonders about the person who will receive the document, about the machines that it will pass through and the postman who will deliver it. She looks out of the window at the crisp blue sky. The printer churns out more pages each warm sheet sliding on top of the next. She has spent weeks on this report. Coaxing answers out of focus groups who clicked their mouse, filled in forms and questionnaires. They tried to complete tasks while she watched chewing the end of her Biro, her bum warming on the radiator. There was always coffee, tea and biscuits and never a wrong answer. She watched the users fail to complete tasks and asked them how improvements could be made, processes made clearer. She ticked boxes on feedback sheets and scribbled notes in comment boxes. She spent days studying the completed forms converting ticks and crosses into graphs and pie charts, numbers into percentages. She compiled, compared and assessed the data. She cut through the ‘noise’, the asides and irrelevancies seeking the feedback that would provide the next round of improvements, a way forward.  It was only then that she put forward her suggestions careful not to offend anyone and sensitive to the creators, her clients feelings. She bounded the report together carefully, slowly lining up the sheets by tapping first this edge and the that. She liked the way the report looked, printed and bound with a plastic top sheet to protect from spills. She slid it into an envelope, peeled off the strip, revealing the gummy edge that she pressed down to seal it. She wrote the address with a flourish, the blue ink bleeding into the white. A stamp pressed neatly in the corner then she straighten the package up and aligned it with the edge of the desk before admiring her work, head tilted slightly to one side. Her back ached from bad posture. She curled up her toes to stretch her feet and wished that it was closer to five. She checked her email in-box, updated her calendar and got on with frittering away the rest of the day.

At 16:56 she receives an email with the news that the next release of the test web site will be delayed by at least a day or possibly two due to issues with the server. ‘Damn it’ this would delay the next round of testing. She would have less time to complete the research and deliver the reports to the client on time. A weekend would have to be worked. She looked up from her desk a frown still etched into her brow. Her face looked every bit as pissed off as she was feeling. A man walked passed the window looking in. She caught his eye but was unable to change here expression in time. He was tall, smart and confident looking. His eyes met her scowl, before he looked away and was gone. She turned back to her desk and frowned at the computer screen some more. The time in the corner of her screen indicated that there was only thirty minutes until the end of her working day, she could probably get away in fifteen.

*****

The old man throws bread crumbs for the pigeons. He is feeding his usual flock who peck and harass each other, jostling for position. The larger birds puff out their plumage and bully the weak, poorer specialism out of the way. He throws some crumbs off to the side where the stump footed and chewing gum riddled decrepit birds have been harried. They fight amongst themselves for scraps.

The fried chicken and petrol scented air feels cold and dirty but it is good to get out of the house. He feels less alone in the company of strangers. He watches people walk by, watches them hurry or saunter past and examines them, takes in their clothes, the gate of their walk. He watches a hooded scallywag with mean needle eyes, scoping furtive glances this way and that for something to nick. He looks like a nasty little prick. The old man watches a tall blonde stride down the High street. She is all swagger and wiggle, her breasts bouncing in a blouse that barely contains them to the rhythm of clip-clop high heals. She checks herself with a quick glance in the shop window and pats down her hair. There is a child, it’s face messed with the remains of an eclair, cream and chocolate smeared across his t-shirt. The little bugger tugs at his mummies sleeve begging for more. A large man, too fat, obviously lazy, scratches at a lottery card wasting his money and dreaming of an escape. A flash git, all shirt, tie and braces leans out of his car window shouting abuse at the vehicle in front. He revs, gestures and honks his horn, red faced and incandescent with rage at the minor delay to his stress fueled day.

The old man sits on a half rotten, moss ridden bench in clothes smelling of mothballs and mints. He chews his lips, masticates and mutters quietly, invisible to the crowd. He sits observing everything, and judging all.

*****

He heads over to her place straight from work, stopping on the way to buy a bottle of red wine and some milk as requested. The evening is cold and wet. Warm light spills out from her steamed up kitchen window. He can see the coloured shapes of here busying over the stove and watches for a few moments before ringing the door bell. The smell of the food drifts out into the street. She swings open the door but is back at the hob before it finishes moving to stir a pan of curried chickpeas and chicken. ‘Hi, won’t be long. Open the wine will you?’. The steamy kitchen with it’s smell of cooking food is a warm welcome from the chill of outside. She turns down the heat of the rice before the water boils up and over the sides of the pan then sprinkles fresh coriander over the curry. He reaches across for the bottle opener touching her side lightly as he does so.

‘Hi you’ he smiles. She offers her cheek on which he places a kiss. An arts magazine program is on the radio. He opens the bottle of wine and pours two generous glasses handing one to her.

‘Out from under my feet you’. She shoos him out of the kitchen. He takes his wine, kicks off his shoes in the hall and wanders into the living room where he leans back into the sofa and listens to the radio program.

LANSON: Today I am joined by film reviewer Jane Quonte to discuss the new film written and directed by Don Jackobs, Catherine Short will be explaining why a new generation of artists are looking to the East for inspiration and we take a look at this years Mann Booker short list. But first I am joined by Phil Farris who’s new play ‘The Final Curtain’, a Kafkaesque tale of a man seeing his own life played out on stage raises questions of authorship and copyright ownership. 

Phil thank you for joining us.

Mr FARRIS: It’s my pleasure.

LANSON: So lets talk first about the origins of your play. I understand that the idea came from a manuscript that you found in a hospital where you were staying after a rather unfortunate road accident.

Mr FARRIS: That’s right I was recovering on a hospital ward and board out of mind. I was looking in the bedside cabinet and found a notepad which out of idle curiosity I began to read and scrawled across it’s pages was this rather intriguing story of a man going to a theatre and watching the story of his life.

LANSON: So how much of the original text was taken from this notepad?

Mr FARRIS: Oh, it was only the germ of the idea really, a starting point.

‘How was your day?’ she shouts from the kitchen.

‘Same old, same old. It’ll be a miracle if I get the report done on time.’

‘Well you can only do your best’

‘Tell that to that fat useless ass of a boss of mine!’ he sips his wine.

‘Shit!’ there is a crashing sound in the kitchen.

‘You OK?’

‘Fine’

LANSON: Because it raises questions, ethical questions about authorship and copyright. I understand that the writer of the original story has never been found and therefore his permission to put on this play has not been given.

Mr FARRIS: Well I think that is putting it a little strongly. I did attempt to find the writer of the original story, I inquired about the previous occupant of the bed but the hospital were unable to release that information. And anyway as I said before it only really provided the germ of the idea, the jumping off point in the same way that many authors take inspiration from a news article or song.

LANSON: That may be so but I am guessing that you could find yourself in trouble if the author of the original story does come forward and contests that. They may even want royalties?

Mr FARRIS: I had thought of that and after speaking with lawyers, who by the way have assured me that no such claim would stand up in a caught of law, I have, as it seemed to be the right thing to do set up an account into which a percentage of the royalties have been paid should the writer of the story come forward.

LANSON: Really? And how would the author prove that they were indeed the genuine article?

Mr FARRIS: There are certain details, certain details that are not in the play that only the person who scribbled the story into that notebook would know.

LANON: So let us talk about the notebook. You have left several notebooks, apparently discarded or lost in and around the surrounding area of the theatre in which the play is being performed. Are they copies of the original notebook and why did you decide to do this?

Mr FARRIS: They are not copies of the original notebook, they are just little ideas, starting points in much the same way as the notebook I found. I liked the idea of passing on something, continuing this serendipitous inspiration. I also wanted to extend the experience of the play beyond the stage in the same way that the main character would have experienced.

LANDON: …and if someone writes an Oscar winning screen play from one of these stories in the notebook will you be seeking a royalty?

Mr FARRIS: Well I think that is quite unlikely but no I give these stories freely. I would be over the moon if something did grow from one of them. The satisfaction would be reward enough.

LANDON: A sort of blind collaboration with no strings attached. Let us turn now to the play itself which as you alluded to earlier leaks from the stage with actors mingling with the audience before, during and after the stage performance.

‘What’s this?’ she nods in the direction of the radio carrying two plates food into the room. The steam rises from the curry. He begins to salivate.

‘It’s about a play, sounds interesting.’ he takes the plate that has been offered him.

Mr FARRIS: Yes again I wanted to try and create an experience that was not contained by the stage. I wanted the play to leak out from the sides in the same way that it did for the main character.

LANDON: But not all of the audience will be able to experience the additional parts that do not take place on stage.

Mr FARRIS: This is true. But everyone experiences a play differently. They will have different interpretations of events, a line, a piece of dialogue can spark personal memories in one member of the audience and that association be it positive or negative, it will colour their experience . Now multiply that by each member of the audience and you have a great multitude of readings of the play.

LANDON: A sort of Roland Baths ‘Death of the author?’

Mr FARRIS: Yes, yes exactly.

‘What is he going on about?’ She mimics his voice ‘every one experiences, every experience in a different way depending on the experiences that they have experienced in my experience – Pretentious prick!’

Dave laughs, covering his mouth to stop chickpeas and chicken chunks from spraying onto the carpet.

LANDON: It must have been quite difficult staging a play with-in a play.

Mr FARRIS: It’s a question of taking the audience with you through the second set of curtains. We exaggerated the make up and tried to get the performers to ‘over act’. It was difficult and we reworked it several times but in the end I think, well hope that it was successful.

LANDON: Yes I think it was. It is not an unprecedented idea of course you only have to look at Shakespear’s ‘Twelth night’ to see an much earlier example.

Mr FARRIS: Everything that I do has been done before. I just rework, reconnect and put it in a different context in the hope that it people get something that feels new out of it.

LANDON: So do you subscribe to the Post Modern view that everything has been done before?

Mr FARRIS: I am not sure, maybe but I wonder about new technology. Social media for example has changed the way that we interact with each other, it has effected our attention span and will inspire a new kind of writing as a result. I am not sure that everything has been done but it depends on how you cut things up. Perhaps I am a Partial-Post-Post-Modernist-Skeptic? (Laughs)

Jesus he’s off again! Pass me my wine will you?’

LANDON: (Laughs) We’ll whatever you are thank you for joining us.

Phil Farris’s play ‘The Final Curtain’ is on at the Impossible Triangle Theater, Chiswick until March 14

Don Jakob’s new film has attracted criticism…

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