I only just discovered this morning, when inserting a link into this blog, that James Hamilton has put a very large quote from me on his website. James is the writer and begetter of the Casual Violence comedy sketch troupe. The quote on his website reads:
“I think he might need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. There’s something very original in there – I just don’t know what the fuck it is.”
That pretty much covers it.
Over lunch yesterday, I asked James:
“How’s you father? Is he still living that odd Hobbit-like subterranean life in those strange Silver Vaults in Holborn?”
“He’s not in there any more,” said James.
“WHAAAAT?” I reacted.
“Did I tell you that my father and his brother fell out?” James asked me.
“No,” I said, smelling the hint of bloggable weirdness.
“He and his brother used to be in business together,” explained James. “But they fell out. They both had businesses in the Silver Vaults and…”
“In those strange, metal-and-stone, cell-like caves,” I interrupted.
“They both had businesses in the Silver Vaults,” repeated James, “and my father had to walk past my brother’s shop every day.”
“Like Gollum,” I mused.
“Your skin does changes colour down there,” James agreed.
“Do people down there call each other My precious?” I asked.
“No,” said James firmly.
“So your father and uncle don’t talk?” I said.
“This Monday,” replied James, “was my grandmother’s 80th birthday and that was the first time in 15 years or so that we managed to get the two of them to the same table for a meal. They sat at opposite ends of the table and did not talk.”
“How long was the table?” I asked.
“Long enough,” replied James. “Anyway, my uncle is still working down in the Silver Vaults and my father recently left. So now he’s… I don’t know what he’s doing… He’s off… He’s just trying to make money doing stuff… I don’t keep track.”
“How long was he toiling down in the Silver Vaults?” I asked.
“25 years or so.”
“And he sold the entire business?”
“No, he just sold the premises. He’s still keeping the business going.”
“So where’s all the silver?” I asked. “Everyone down there has things like giant silver ostriches and small Regency pepper pots and extravagant pheasants.”
“I genuinely don’t know where it all is,” said James. “I presume it’s still in Britain.”
“He could have sold it and bought some country,” I suggested. “Perhaps Greece.”
“That’d be good, wouldn’t it?” said James.
“Not Greece,” I said.
“No, not Greece,” James agreed.
“There’s the basis of a sitcom there,” I suggested.
“Well,” said James, “If you do comedy, the one thing you do hear a lot is, if something ridiculous happens in your family, people say: Oh! There’s a sketch in it! or That’s a sitcom!”
“Oh,” I said, rather deflated.
“They tend,” said James, “to be people who’ve never seen my comedy. When they see what I do, they tend to stop saying that.”
“I’ve seen your comedy,” I said, slightly crestfallen.
“It’s really rather sad,” said James. “As a result of the falling-out, my dad has had no contact with that other side of the family. I have got little cousins between the ages of 8 and 13 and they were chatting away about their lives at my grandmother’s birthday party on Monday and that was simultaneously lovely to see and quite sad. My grandmother was really happy and was hopeful that, at some point in the future, my dad and his brother might be able to do that again.”
“What?” I asked. “Not talk to each other?”
“Yes,” said James, “not talk to each other, but in the same room rather than being in different places… Have you met Jorik Mol?”
“Alas,” I said, “no.”
“He has this running joke, when he sees my Edinburgh Fringe shows, that they are all about my daddy issues.”
“But you don’t particularly have dads as characters in your shows,” I said.
“Well, we kind of do,” said James. “In Kick In The Teeth, the only one was in the battleship sketches where we had the father who dies at the beginning and the son who goes out to avenge him. But, in Choose Death there was Roger & Charlie in the taxidermy house, which is like a whole father/son relationship. And I’m returning to it this year in our new show House of Nostril. The main storyline is a father & son relationship.
“When I do my solo show next year – at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 – it’s going to be the first time I’ll have consciously mined my own experience to write stuff. The Casual Violence shows are not about me.
“In this year’s show, House of Nostril, the character of Conk, The Dyslexia Goblin came from two separate ideas. I wanted to have a carer/caree relationship where the guy who’s being cared for can see a goblin but the nurse can’t.
“And there was a play we’d all done years ago about using face cream to cure illnesses. So we started talking about curing dyslexia with face cream. And that became Conk, The Dyslexia Goblin and there’s a lot of cream being rubbed on people’s faces while the goblin makes sandwiches.”
“Not at all weird,” I said. “It’s social realism, really.”
“That’s the only weird part in the new show,” said James warily.
“What else is in it?”
“We’ve got a series of sketches about chimney sweeps. The premise is that one has retired at the age of 10 and this other 8-year-old sweep is trying to convince him to come out of retirement, but he doesn’t want to do it because he’s on the wrong side of 10.
“Our director said to me: Oh, I see – it’s a metaphor for the coal mining thing! and I said No and he got really annoyed with me, because apparently that’s what I had written: I just didn’t know I had.
“And it was the same with Conk, especially with what happens in the storyline, which I won’t spoil. Somebody at the last rehearsal told me that Conk, The Dyslexia Goblin was actually all about Alzheimer’s and dementia… No, it’s not about dementia; it’s about goblin dyslexia cream and loneliness and that’s all it’s about.”
“Loneliness?” I asked.
“He is a lonely goblin,” explained James. “Only the old man can see him. If nobody can see you, it must be quite lonely and depressing. I don’t think that’s actually where the story is going now, but we were playing with that idea. We’re still trying to have characters end up miserable and alone… because that’s the Casual Violence way.”
“Are they always miserable and lonely?” I asked.
“They were last year,” said James. “Our last show was very bleak. This one is less bleak. It’s sillier, it’s like our previous one Choose Death. It’s less oppressively horrible.”
“But still weird,” I said.
“Only the dyslexia goblin part,” said James.
I am still not convinced James has not got a strong weird gene in him.