6 11 Self portrait

I had found the pub while I was driving down to Weymouth. The weather had turned foul and I was tired, so after letting Richelieu, my dog, stretch his legs, I opened the door to the bar and walked in, my own leg twinging where the prosthetic rubbed slightly. I have always hated walking into strange places and this was no exception.

The place was empty save for a couple of walkers, what was probably a local at the bar and a barman behind the bar. I walked up to the bar and ordered a drink. The menu looked reasonable, with a reasonable selection of vegetarian food, but my first responsibility was to Richelieu. He may be a big shaggy dog, but I didn’t want to leave him out in the heavy rain.

The barman said it was ok to bring him in, so I towelled him down and sat him in front of the open fire. He was the nearest thing to a lover I had had for the last few years, since my father had seduced my girlfriend. We lived between my two homes but it was obvious which Richelieu preferred. The country pile had always been his favourite as it was mine. The central London pad was a necessity for my work as a freelance writer dealing in the political disputes worldwide. I needed to stay in town for days at a time and most hotels didn’t take dogs.

I ordered the soup with chips and onion rings and sat down on the settee beside Richelieu. The barman brought out some water and a bone for Richelieu, while a St Bernard came up to us with his own enormous bone held between salivating jaws.

6 10 Portraying your character

Make a summary of what the character is like

Richard was a 65 year old man. At 6’ 6”, he was tall with a significant girth, still very fit mainly from walking his Briard in the woods near his Hampshire home or in London parks near his London flat. He had been single for many years since he had found his late father in bed with his girlfriend.

He had a long, loping gait with an almost imperceptible limp. He had rowed competitively when in London although as time had passed, he had reduced the frequency he attended the training sessions and was being selected less often for the club team.

He was on the verge of retiring from his work as a freelance geopolitical writer from which he made a good living, although his homes had been purchased from the compensation payout he had received for the loss of his leg in a motorbike accident thirty years ago. The remaining money was wisely invested and would provide a significant income into his twilight years.

He had been born in Cornwall, where his mother still lived. At the age of thirteen, he went to boarding school, followed by university and the Navy. He had travelled extensively, privately and professionally.

Show them through appearance

The man walking through the woods was tall and well-built. His dog ran beside him before plunging into the lake that could be seen between the trees to the right of the track.

Richard’s jeans were damp from the water his black Briard shook from his coat every time he chose to run beside his master. Mud was splattered up his thighs from the many puddles he had strode through. His large steps covered the ground quickly and soon both dog and man had reached the clearing beside the lake.

Richard threw a ball. Richard reflected on how the dog was slowing down, much like himself. Retirement was on the horizon, although he could continue much as he was for many years yet.

A woman could be seen walking across the clearing, her dog running up to Richard. He bent down and ruffled the fur on his back. He nodded at the woman, something he had done hundreds of times in the past. One day he might pluck up the courage to do more, but not today. Today he was going to drive up to the London flat

Finally, show them through a speech in a scene.

Richard approached the bar hesitantly, shaking his head to get rid of some of the water that was dripping from his hair. For a large man, he looked a little unsure of himself.

“A pint of beer, please,” he asked softly. “Could I have a menu as well, please?”

“Visitor?” asked the barman as he pulled the drink and handed Richard a menu.

“Yes. My dog’s outside. Do you mind if I bring him in. The weather’s foul.”

“He’s house trained, I take it?”

“He is that and he’s more likely to lick you to death than bite you.”

“Yeah, bring him in. It’s not like we’re busy,” the barman answered as he looked around the nearly empty bar. There were just a couple of walkers sitting at a table beside the fire roaring in the inglenook fireplace and a man sitting at the other end of the bar.

Richard went out the door and returned with a large shaggy dog. After rubbing the dog down with a towel and settling him down beside the fire, Richard returned to the bar to collect his drink and look at the menu.

“What’s the soup of the day?”

“Spicy tomato and lentil. Comes with a large wedge of granary.”

“One of those with a side order of chips and another of onion rings, please.”

As Richard turned towards the fire, the barman asked, “Want a bowl of water for the dog?”

“That would be great.”

“Is he allowed a bone?”

“He is,” Richard replied cautiously.

“Righto. I will see what we have.” The barman disappeared through the door to the kitchen and Richard walked over to the settee beside which Richelieu was lying. He nodded to the walkers who looked up from their meal as he approached.

“Appalling weather today,” the young man stated.

“Yes. You walked far?” Richard asked. He really wasn’t that interested, preferring to sit quietly reading a book with Richelieu by his feet, but the pub was empty and it would sem churlish to ignore the few people that were there. He took off his Barbour and hung it on a coat rack beside the settee.

“We were hoping to walk from Winfrith to Weymouth but the weather has really closed in and so we decided to have lunch here. Pretty little village, Isn’t it?”

“What I have seen of it,” Richard replied.

“Your not from around either?”

“No.”

Just then the barman reappeared carrying a metal platter on which rested a large bone. “Samson may join you, but he always has a bone with him so I thought it best that your dog ahd something to nibble on as well.”

“Thank you. He will enjoy that.”

“Your food will be right up.”

“Amazing!” said the young man. “Your dog gets better service than you.”

“Better table manners,” Richard replied as he opened his book.

 

6 4 2 Building a new character

The 65 year old man standing beside the river with a large, black, shaggy dog dripping by his side was Richard Chynoweth. At 6’ 6”, he was tall with a significant girth, but he was still very fit despite losing a leg in a motorbike crash thirty years ago. He had a long, loping gait with an almost imperceptible limp and still rowed competitively.

Dressed in jeans with a Harlequin sweatshirt, he could be from anywhere. Nothing gave away his financial status, although a look at his assets would show that he was wealthier than most. He lived in a large isolated house in Hampshire, but maintained a small serviced flat in the centre of London, He had a 4×4 parked in Hampshire, but while in London, he belonged to a car share scheme, although more often than not he used public transport. His multiple bank accounts and investments indicate that he had been successful in his past. The original funding came from a compensation payout for his leg, but subsequent good management had caused the fund to grow significantly.

He had been sent to boarding school at 13, continuing onto Oxford with sponsorship from the Navy. After gaining a double first in Geography and Geology, he spent some time in the Navy, seeing active service in the Balkans and the Gulf.

He was single although there have been girlfriends in the past. Given all his assets, he could hold his own in any social situation, but he was painfully shy, preferring to remain on the sidelines, in the shadows. Most people would see him as a gentle giant, who is outwardly happy and easy to smile. He tended to see the good side of most people, although he found many people his intellectual inferior and did not suffer fools gladly. His deep gravelly voice could be heard in groups of friends he knew well, but in situations with strangers, he held his own counsel.

Richard did not keep in contact with his family, which consisted of women in the main. His mother remained in Cornwall where Richard spent the first 13 years of his life. His only sibling, a sister, moved to Scotland with her oil-prospecting husband. Richard often reflected that he should have been closer with her given that her husband was also a geologist, but it had never happened, even as children in Cornwall. There were a few aunts spread around the world, but he had not seen them for decades. His father died ten years ago. Their relationship had been strained for many years after Richard had surprised his father and his girlfriend in the London flat. Richard had not had a permanent girlfriend since.

Richard chose his friends carefully. He had many acquaintances such as those he met on his walks with his large French water dog, Heracles. They spent many hours exploring the New Forest and they would often join others for at least part of their rambles.

He was a freelance geopolitical writer specialising in disputes across the world. His work brought him into contact with politicians, army leaders, freedom fighters and even terrorists. Many were likeable but untrustworthy and Richard was happy when he was back in his country home. His own political leanings were liberal, something that extended to the majority of his life.

He worked hard, becoming obsessive at times. He prides himself at getting to the crux of the subjects he investigated. His work required detailed notes and he kept these meticulously. However, this tidiness does not carry over into his private life.

A lifelong vegetarian, Richard has never taken recreational drugs and has barely ever been drunk. Cigarettes had never attracted him due to his mother’s chain smoking. He did not frequent pubs or clubs except for work where it was often a necessity. In the main, his life style was quiet, preferring a good book or film to the company of others. He liked to read about the life of others, be that historical or science fiction. He had thought about writing his own stories but had never had the confidence to have a go.

His musical interests were eclectic, ranging from country and western through ballads to rock and roll. He had dabbled with religions and many of the songs were about a search for God. His main place for listening was the car where he would happily join in with the songs. He had a good voice, but did not consider it good enough for others to hear. Humming was the most he would do with passengers in the car.

Now that he had decided to retire, he still harboured a desire to meet his soul mate. He knew it was unlikely at his age, but he lived in hope. He realised that this would mean doing more sociable activities. He was hardly going to meet women on his solitary walks in the woods. The problem he had was that the many social activities available to him did not interest women who were his intellectual equal.

He had had an adventurous life, taking advantage of the opportunities that had come his way. Bungee jumping in New Zealand, parachuting in the Navy, scuba diving while at school and university, motor biking around the United States and Australia, but he had deep seated fears of needles and the dark. Needles went back to an experience as a child when he needed repeated injections for an allergy treatment his mother had considered essential, but which had never cured his allergy to nuts. The darkness had become a problem while at boarding school, when one night the school bully had set him adrift in a boat on the estuary beside the school. That could have been enough on its own, but the bully had taken a speed boat out and pushed him into a life raft at the point of a knife. He had fallen in the water and, while he pulled himself up into the dinghy, the bully turned the speedboat and set off back to the shore. However, he had misjudged the distance to the small stone jetty and in the dark had hit it at full speed. The force of the accident caused the bully to catapult out of the boat and hit the edge of the jetty. Richard had spent hours listening to the screams of his tormentor as he desperately tried to find the ladder to climb out of the sea. The boy had died some time during the night and the current had carried his battered body many miles down the coast. Richard’s life raft was also caught by the current and he had been found extremely distraught early the next morning.

Looking back on his life, Richard considered that learning to walk again after his accident was his greatest triumph. Doctors had said that the damage to his leg and spine would mean that he would spend his days in a wheelchair. Richard had worked hard on his physio so that he was able to complete the Great North Run two years after the accident.

The worst moment had not been the loss of his leg, but rather the betrayal he had felt when his girlfriend had an affair with his father. He was never sure which one he blamed the most, but he had never seen the woman again and had only seen his father on his deathbed. By the time he arrived at the hospice at the behest of his mother, his father had been sedated and had never regained consciousness.

He now felt that his greatest challenge was what to do with his retirement years. He wanted a project but what would be satisfying enough to keep him interested?

3.2 “I love you” exercise 2

John impatiently watched the fields rush past as the train meandered through the early spring countryside.

What had seemed like a good idea when he had planned this day had taken on a nightmare quality. The train had been delayed by a fallen tree and was now half an hour late. On most journeys, this would not have been a major problem, but on this day of all days, he had forgotten to charge his phone. He was on his way to meet the woman of his dreams and he was unable to contact her.

He imagined her standing beside the cross in the centre of the town’s market square, patiently at first. Occasionally, she would look at her phone to check that the time on the town hall clock was right. He knew she would have a book with her, so she would soon be leaning against the rusting railings as she read. How long would she wait?

The train slowed yet again. John looked at his watch and watched the minute hand move inexorably across the face. Ten minutes later, with John crawling the walls in his mind, the train was still stationary. There had been no announcements to explain this latest delay. The other passengers were also getting anxious and he could hear them calling friends and colleagues to explain what was going on. John would have asked to borrow a phone but the number he needed was embedded inside the useless piece of technology resting in his pocket.

John could feel sweat running down his back. His anxiety at being late was adding to his nervousness about the meeting ahead and what he had planned to tell her. He was becoming more and more agitated. He now imagined her starting to get irritated. It wouldn’t be long before she walked away and caught her bus back to her home town. She was almost certainly phoning him and getting his voicemail. Would she realise that there was a problem with his phone and that he was on his way?

An hour late, the train finally drew into the station. John was standing by the door shuffling his feet, ready to dash off the train and out of the station to run towards the town square the moment the doors opened. It seemed like an eternity until the doors began to move, but finally they released John into the open air.

He stepped out and turned for the exit. As he started to sprint through the few people on the platform, he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Wait! I’m here. I came here when I realised you were late and I couldn’t get through on the phone.”

John turned and she ran into his arms.

“I love you so much,” he blurted out and she kissed him.

Why had he been so worried? She had waited and he had said what he wanted in the first few seconds of their meeting.

 

“I love you” exercise

John impatiently watched the fields rush past as the train meandered through the countryside.

What had seemed like a good idea when he had planned this day had taken on a nightmare quality. The train had been delayed by a fallen tree and was now half an hour late. On most journeys, this would not have been a major problem, but on this day of all days, he had forgotten to charge his phone. He was on his way to meet the woman of his dreams and he was unable to contact her.

He imagined her standing patiently at first beside the cross in the centre of the town square. Occasionally, she would look at her phone to check the time on the town hall clock was right. He knew she would have a book with her, so she would soon be leaning against the railings as she read.

The train slowed yet again. John looked at his watch and watched the minute hand move across the face. Ten minutes later, with John crawling the walls in his mind the train was still stationary. There had been no announcements to explain this latest delay. The few other passengers were also getting anxious and he could hear them calling friends and colleagues to explain what was going on. John would have asked to borrow a phone but the number he needed was embedded inside the useless piece of technology resting in his pocket.

John could feel his sweat running down his back. His anxiety at being late was adding to his nervousness about the meeting ahead and what he had planned to tell her. He was becoming more and more agitated. He now imagined her starting to get impatient. It wouldn’t be long before she walked away and caught her bus back to her home town. She was almost certainly phoning him and getting his voicemail. Would she realise that there was a problem with his phone, that he was on his way?

An hour late, the train finally drew into the station. John was standing by the door shuffling his feet, ready to dash off the train and out of the station to run towards the town square the moment the doors opened. It seemed like an eternity until the doors began to move, but finally they released John into the open air.

He stepped out and turned for the exit. As he started to sprint through the few people on the platform, he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Wait! I’m here. I came here when I realised you were late and I couldn’t get through on the phone.”

John turned and she ran into his arms.

“I love you so much” he blurted out and she kissed him.

Why had he been so worried? She had waited and he had said what he wanted in the first few seconds of their meeting.

Free thinking humans or sheep?

Strange question you may say, but is it really?

I have always found religions with set liturgies hard to comprehend.  People go along once or more a week and stand, sit or kneel at the appointed times, respond with the appropriate words without ever considering what is being said.  This was taken to extremes in the Christian church when services were conducted in Latin while the congregation spoke only English and were unable to read anything.

These days the media has taken over churning out opinions that suit the people who supply the money.  The readers, viewers or listeners take what is presented without ever wondering if there is another point of view.  Before the days of multiple television and radio stations, the newspapers provided this service.  Owners would dictate what spin was put on the news that was reported.

To get a balanced view, one might think that buying a selection of papers would be sensible.  While I was a civil servant, there was a strike that went on for many weeks.  The office invested in a selection of papers ranging from staunch conservative ones to the most left wing of the time.  Updates about the strike campaign came from our trade union.  I cannot remember a day when all versions agreed with what had taken place the previous day, but, on certain days, some of the papers reported stories that appeared to be mere works of fantasy.  It made me quite critical of anything I read.

The only broadcasters were BBC and ITV with the BBC supposedly presenting an unbiased view: both sides would be given the same amount of airtime.  Often, however, it did not feel that unbiased.

Coming up-to-date, we now have many more choices for getting our news, although it is often not clear what political bias the station has.  In many cases, one news channel will just pick up a news story from another channel and reports it with or without a spin of their own.  However, much of the news reported is extremely parochial, something that can be seen very clearly if you watch Russia Today or Al Jazeera.  Not that they are not parochial in their own way, but they will often report stories that never get a mention on the traditional UK channels.

So all our news input from these sources is distilled into a limited set of stories.  Many people still only see one or two views, often those that match their own persuasions, and they take everything at face value without question.  For instance, if there is a possible suspect for a heinous crime, once the name has become public knowledge all manner of stories begin to come to the surface with no-one bothering to question the authenticity.  A woman disappeared in Bristol a few years ago.  The neighbour had a slightly eccentric appearance and, as a matter of course, the police interviewed him.  The journalists immediately jumped on the fact that he was odd and had him hung, drawn and quartered by the media within the day.  Subsequently, another man was arrested and found guilty but the damage had been done.  People had hounded him, baying for his blood, and his only “crime” was to be a neighbour of a woman who had gone missing.

The internet now allows the average person access to news far more quickly and far more varied, both locally and further afield.  One might think this would give a more balanced view and people would be less likely to jump to the wrong conclusions.  But it seems that the opposite is true.

The number of times I have seen a post on FaceBook that appears to indicate that something has happened.  People start to comment on it and it takes on a life of its own.  No-one questions the original story and soon the spin that has been applied by a few people is the only thing anyone reads.

For instance, a recent story about MPs’ portraits paid for by taxpayers used as an illustration a Labour MP and the caption was about the cost of the portrait compared with the cost of hospital treatment refused to a young boy.  The only comments were directed at the Labour party and how two faced they were.  However, a search for the original story showed that portraits were done for members from every party and that the amount spent overall had been reduced during the recession.  There was still a reason for people to be indignant about what our taxes are buying, but it certainly is not solely one particular party’s fault.

Another story about the destruction of antiquities by IS prompted responses about how dreadful it was and that the perpetrators should be bombed to oblivion.  My response was that this sort of activity had been going on for centuries and I used the example of the dissolution of the monasteries.  I was chastised for my statement, being told that we had museums and 500 years had passed.  We were now in the 21st century and IS should know better.  As luck would have it, a completely separate post by one of my friends complained about how the slaughter of thousands in Central Africa was being completely ignored by our media.  Using that and the Nazis as further examples, I finally got the original poster to understand that I wasn’t siding with IS but rather saying that if we stop one atrocity another will pop up in its place.

That second post also goes to highlight the parochial nature of our news: we are concerned about what happens in the Middle East, prompted perhaps by the oil that is there or maybe the protestations of that vociferous nation, Israel, while we ignore what is happening a few thousand miles away.

Once again, people are far too easily pointed in the direction of one series of atrocities simply because the place where they get their information has vested interests.

Another example of the sheep instinct is when children go missing.  A relative or friend will post a plea for information about the individual.  This a brilliant use of the internet.  In fact, I saw an episode of NCIS where the law enforcement agency used Twitter to track a plane they were trying to find.  What is not so good is when the tweet or post is retweeted or shared blindly for months or even years after the situation has been resolved.  It takes a few moments to verify the story before sending it on its way to others who may be able to help.

In my experience, very few of these stories are valid.  I check each one that crosses my news feed and they are either for something that happened years ago because invariably the original post never comes with a date or they are hoaxes.  One hoax I have seen a number of times is designed to whip up anti-Muslim feelings by implying that Islamic child abusers have abducted a child.  Not only are there no child abusers involved, Islamic or otherwise, but there is no child either.

People are ready to believe everything they see on the internet especially if it has arrived in their news feeds from someone they know.  The fact that their friends have also thought the same when the news item arrived with them means that we are bombarded with information that is incorrect and potentially dangerous.

So going back to my title statement, are we free thinking human beings or are we sheep prepared to take everything at face value?