Saturday, 19 February 2011

Extracts from first draft of "Keeping Up With The Kingstons", from "State of the Nation."



A first draft, so I know it's a bit ropey in places. Still, it's got some nice images in it and an ending that doesn't involve madness or death, so something of a first. Although it does involve a relationship breakdown, so perhaps not too much of a departure from the norm. Anyway, this was written around the same sort of time as the "Ugly Stories" but I felt it didn't fit in with that collection which focussed mainly on love, reality and how love can alter reality. However, it does fit in with the underlying theme of "State of the Nation" so, almost ten years on (and after being accepted for publication by the long-gone mag "Sierra Heaven", although they went to the mag graveyard in the sky before actually publishing it) it's now nominally part of that collection. Surprised it was accepted though to be honest. It's definitely a first draft and needs radical revision, if not wholesale rewriting. Then again, I suppose given my current work schedule that's what the Summer is for.

It's also strange to see how things change, even over ten years. For example, I described the "Colour Cube" as being "as big as a TV set." Yet now all TVs are flatscreens that piece of description is pretty much irrelevant. Inaccurate anyway, given that it's a Cube. He also reviews the "Kingstons" show on video tape. This is a bit trickier now we all have Hard Drives and Plus Boxes, expecially given what he does with the video tapes at the end of the story... not exactly possible with an mp4 file. Still, it's an old show - I can always say he started his Kingstons collection on video. And in some ways, given that the whole point of the story is his adopting a non-conformist, non-materialist, "anti-consumer" lifestyle, I suppose his preference for outdated technology because, "Hey, it still works so why throw it out!" does actually make sense, in a way. In some ways that can even be an advantageous thing; something that adds to his characterisation.

Anyway, a few extracts from "Keeping Up With The Kingstons." It might be fun to see how this changes and develops as time goes by.



"I had been a fan of "The Kingstons" in its early "wobbly walls" period, but what with everything that had happened over the past few years I'd lost interest. It had started as just another slightly kitsch family melodrama until the Late Noughties when Sir Harvey Williamson was appointed as Executive Producer and storyline consultant. An MP who had made his money in Marketing and the Media, Williamson was a powerful force behind the show, and the ratings skyrocketed almost overnight. Children watched it in their school lunch-hours, workers rushed home in time to see it, and the BBC even changed its third weekly broadcast from Friday to Thursday night after the Breweries complained that people refused to go out until after it had finished. And so the phenomenon known as "The Kingstons", the most popular TV programme in British viewing history, reached its fifteenth birthday.
However, as I looked at the bare plan, I started to seriously wonder if I could really write 8000 words on the thing. I'd easily written a similar article for the "Eastenders" thirtieth Anniversary the year before, despite hardly ever watching the show. The drug abuse, incest, arson, unwanted pregnancies and so on, easily lent themselves to an interesting article. But "The Kingstons"? In fifteen years of occasional viewing I couldn't really recall anything of interest that had actually happened.
I heard a knock at the front door, and looking at my watch realised that it was another of Sophie's deliveries.
I opened the door, the unshaven man thrusting a bitten pen and a clipboard at me to sign. Resignedly, I wrote my name, and the man grunted and walked away down the path past the weeds and empty crisp packets, casually discarding a cigarette in the garden as he left.
In front of me were two brown cardboard boxes, one small and relatively flat, the other as large as a T.V. set. I knelt down and picked them up, the large box surprisingly light. I kicked the door shut with my heel, and carried them through to the kitchen, where I carefully slid them onto the table. The small box was indeed a new video, and, as I'd thought, it was exactly the same as the previous one except this was a TX100 j, the "j" obviously making all the difference.
However, on opening the larger box, I was amazed to find a large plastic cube. It was hollow, and its upper surface could be removed, but as far as I could tell it had no function. I looked at the invoice to see if that could tell me what it was, but it simply said "Colour Cube tm".
And then I saw the price.
At £995 (not including VAT), it couldn't simply be a red plastic box. But, that was all it seemed to be. There were no wires, cables, or electrical components, and its box didn't contain a manual.
I lit another Marly, and sat down staring at it, as I pondered what it could possibly be."



[...]



"Nothing you see on television is actually there.
All those blue-rinsed old biddies who worry about all the sex and violence, the bad language and lewd behaviour, they all miss the point.
It's not really there.
It's just thousands of dots; blue, green, red dots all blazing away, a new pointillist work created every microsecond, an abstract image forming again and again and again.
And that's why you had to admire "The Kingstons". Because, despite its crassness, its one dimensional storylines and cardboard characters, it somehow managed to create out of this swirling mass of technicolour a world that was almost obscenely black and white. Wealth is good, poverty is bad. Beauty is good, ugliness bad, and so on and so forth. The possibilities dormant within the maelstrom of colour, the beauties that could be shown, seemed to be ignored in the chrome-and-money world of "The Kingstons".
But then again, it's not really there so why worry?
And as I argued with Sophie, for the second time that day, I had a disturbing glimpse of the world in which she lived. I was poor, weak, and holding her back from the materialistic joys and excesses which she could see just lurking over the horizon of her future. In Kingstons-speak, I was poor, I was weak..... I was bad.
And as I sat watching the T.V. after Sophie had stormed out, I thought about how I viewed our life, our relationship.
And it was then that I realised that I wasn't going to worry about it anymore, I was going to stop losing sleep over how I could get her to love me again, or how we could be happy with each other again.
Because our past love, our happiness, our whole relationship was much like the flat fictitious images on the T.V. screen.
It wasn't really there.
And it never had been."


[...]




"Oh, you're still doing that", said Sophie, putting her head round the doorway as I lay on the floor typing. "I hope you videoed "The Kingstons".
I grunted.
"God, that's all you say to me now. I've met pigs who are more articulate than you."
"I didn't know "Harvey Nichols" sold livestock nowadays", I replied.
She curled her lips in disgust, and noisily dropped her briefcase in the doorway. I felt myself relax as she left the room and heard her lifting the cardboard boxes from the corner where I had left them.
I stopped typing for a moment, knowing what to expect.
An excited squeal came from the kitchen.
"What is it?", I shouted through to her.
"A new Colour Cube".
"Yes, I know, but what is it? What does it do?"
I heard her leave the kitchen before seeing her head around the door.
"It doesn't do anything. It's ornamental."
I sat up, perplexed. "Ornamental? A metre wide plastic cube? It's not even smooth. You can see where it's been moulded."
"Well, what does that ugly thing do", she said, pointing at my lamp.
I examined it exaggeratedly.
"I think", I said, "it gives out light. That's probably why it's got a light bulb stuck on top of it."
Her lips curled up again. "Don't be sarcastic. It doesn't suit you." She picked up her briefcase and stomped upstairs. I heard the bedroom door slam, and took a deep breath before returning to work.
Realising that most viewers probably had as much difficulty in remembering the early episodes as I did, I had decided to focus on the more recent ones.
However, as I fast forwarded over a six month-old confrontation between Crispin Kingston and his sister Sophie, something caught my eye. I stopped the tape, rewound it slightly and then played it.
It was on the screen so fleetingly that I had to rewind the tape again in order to pause it, but, there! Just as Sophie was harassing Crispin to leave University and get a proper job, I saw something sitting on the polished oak floor of their living room.
A bright red, shiny Colour Cube."



[...]



"I sat at the table, drinking another glass of red wine. Josh and Sophie's other friends were all pretty much as I'd imagined them, flash, pretentious and snobbish, and they sat around talking about "Sales gradients", and "ABC1 Purchasing Curves" for much of the evening.
My few attempts at humour were largely ignored, and after a while I actually found myself being patronised by them, feeling like Nora in "The Doll's House" (although I realised that they wouldn't be able to understand the analogy). I made a joke about seeing an advert for a miraculous new vacuum cleaner from the States called an "Ibsen", and chuckled to myself when all-mighty Josh said that he was currently trying to "work the UK end of their marketing network".
The others nodded wisely and wished him luck.
Indeed, in the three hours I'd been sat at the Hell-table, the only time their talk veered away from work was when they talked about their (expensive) holidays in Rio, Tokyo or Buenos Aires, and when Sophie announced, as if I'd been building a paper-plane, that I was writing an article on "The Kingstons". At this, all heads turned, and I admitted that I was but was unable to continue much further due to the crumbs from a particularly flaky vol-au-vent falling from the edges of my mouth. Their attention thus lost they soon started to discuss their Pension Plans, and I was again ignored.
I looked around the room seeking a quick escape route, and unsuccessfully stifled a yawn. It was decorated in the popular retro Eighties-style popularised by "The Kingstons" - black furniture, bare polished floorboards, silvery-grey rugs and plenty of chrome. Through the conspicuously open double-doors I could see into the living room, or "lounge" as Josh referred to it. It was small, but decorated in the same way. I could see the TV set and video (a TX 100j), the frosted glass door of the video cabinet obviously left open "accidentally", and the various Waldo-like lamps designed by "Aldi of Paris", nestling next to "Ceero" ("Of Barcelona, incidentally") sofas and chairs.
I turned to Sophie who was also looking around the room like a vulture hovering over its prey, obviously comparing their possessions with our own, and, judging by the barely disguised look of annoyance on her face finding ours lacking.
Readying myself for another rash of indiscriminate shopping, I asked where the toilet was, to be told that the "loo" was upstairs, and so flashing a cursory grin at the company (which was ignored) I stood up and left the table.
As I closed the door behind me, I took a deep breath and willed myself to relax. I climbed the stairs, fashionably polished with a thin strip of thick ethnic-style carpet running up the centre, and went to the toilet. I decided to wait in the toilet for a while, to give myself time to "gird my loins" for my next confrontation with them.
As I sat on the toilet-seat, surrounded by a confusing mix of "English Country Cottage", "New York Minimalist", and "Amazonian Ethnic" ornaments and hangings, all fashionable but tastelessly thrown together, I thought about them all chattering downstairs. I'd always hated that sort of person, and until recently so had Sophie, and that was what I found so hard to understand. If anything, it was Sophie's contempt that had rubbed off on me, yet here she was smiling, giggling and flirting like a sixteen year-old. It was understandable why everyone seemed to like her so much, but I just wished they could catch her unawares at home and see what I had to put up with.
The lack of overall design in the room, a hotch-potch of designer items, clashing and contrasting with each other, reminded me of people who dressed in mink-coats and Armani jeans, thinking that the "label" somehow compensated for the appalling overall look.
I could see from the minimalist black-and-white wall-clock - was it normal for me to know the prices of almost everything I could see? - that it was time for me to rejoin the others. I flushed "the loo" and walked back out onto the corridor.
However, as I closed the door, another slightly open door at the end of the corridor caught my attention, and before I was fully aware of what I was doing I was standing outside it. It was painted gold with the familiar "Ikea" May range of Aztec symbols stencilled on it, but it was what lay behind the door, almost hidden in the darkness that caught my attention.
Stealthily, and checking that no-one was leaving the dining room, I opened it and turned on the light.
The bare bulb lit everything with a harsh glare. Although perhaps everything was too strong a word, for the room, while large, was almost completely empty. The floor was uncarpeted, and covered in a thin layer of saw-dust, and a large crumpled mattress lay by the far wall. The walls too, were bare, the mucky plaster adding more to the Aztec motif than I was sure Josh and Charlotte intended. Next to the bed were three large cardboard boxes, full of crumpled designer-clothes, Armani, Gasper and McQueen, and yet that was all. No trendy objet d'art here.
The only part of the room which was in keeping with the dining room, living room and toilet were the drawn curtains, which were the latest designs from "Romanoff's".
Smirking, I discounted moving something so that Josh and Charlotte would see that I knew their secret, and left the room. I opened the door to the other bedroom that was at the top of the stairs, this room too being utterly bare and undecorated. There wasn't even a mattress. Then again, I thought, any guests they may have could be easily put-up on the latest futons they had littered around downstairs.
Downstairs in the rooms where we had been carefully shepherded.
I opened the living room door, and noticed that everyone had finished their Brandys, and were milling around the rooms, admiring Josh's taste in furnishings. As Josh proudly announced that he was having a conservatory built, I found Sophie examining the underside of their Colour-Cube, this one blue, in the living room, hidden from my previous vantage-point by the sofa. She turned to me.
"1003 B", she said.
"What?"
"1003 B", she repeated. "Ours is 1059 R. Theirs is newer than ours. We'll have to get another one before we invite them to ours."
And so saying, she delicately placed the Colour Cube into its previous position, and, broad smile fixed on her face, went over to talk to Josh about the merits of conservatories in inner-city "living spaces".

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