“You could do a blog about me saving Southwark Woods,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me last night.
“It’s not interesting enough,” I told him.
We were at a London Film Festival screening of a restored print of Ken Russell’s movie Women in Love.
I loathe D.H. Lawrence’s books. He is a good writer. You read a sentence of his and you think: What a really excellently-written sentence. And then he goes on for a paragraph about the same thing – usually dark primeval sexual forces – and then he keeps going on and on and on and about it for three pages, by which time you start to lament the scarcity of therapists in the early 20th century.
I vaguely remember at school getting some comprehension page by an un-named author which we had to appraise and criticise. It was about a couple having sex atop a hay cart in the pouring rain. I thought: This has to be bloody D.H. Lawrence. And it was.
I saw Ken Russell’s movie when it was first released and it had seemed cutting edge. It has not dated well. It was rather slowly paced and there was no plot with a hook; incidents just happened without any over-all shape. Very disappointing. However, the restoration of the print is superb and the Q&A afterwards was very well thought-out. Excellent guests.
The film itself was interminable. It was 2 hours 11 minutes. It felt like 5 hours. And, as a piece of film-making, it felt rather conventional though it retained Lawrence’s ideas. Interviewed afterwards, the film’s star Glenda Jackson said she thought the original script had been “overwritten” though they had got round that.
Afterwards, Lewis Schaffer said: It has not aged well. (He had never seen it before.) And it had no plot. I had to agree. It was a good representation of a D.H.Lawrence novel. Interminable. Though the sex scenes were better.
We drowned our sorrows by drinking still water and having steak and kidney pies in a chip shop by Waterloo station.
We were interrupted by texts on my iPhone from Claire Smith, comedy reviewer for The Scotsman and one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges.
“I am at a home theatre show in Willesden,” the first message said. It was accompanied by a photo of a man in a suit playing a guitar and wearing a shark’s head.
I texted back: “I think I have seen the shark before but can’t remember who the act was… Was it Jonny Awsum?”
Claire replied: “The actor/writer wearing the shark mask is Lewis Hart. It’s home theatre. Stratford East. In Tamara Barschak’s flat in Willesden Green. It’s a programme from Stratford East, where theatre people make a play in people’s houses.
“Tamara proposed a play based on Jaws and Waiting For Godot and Aaron Barshak found a suit worn by Peter O’Toole in How To Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn. He bought it for £15 on Portobello Road. Does that all make sense? I may have had some wine.”
I presume it was Aaron Barshak who bought the suit for £15, not Peter O’Toole.
Lewis Schaffer and I, having eaten our steak and kidney pies, decided to go for decaffeinated teas in Waterloo Station. The glamour of showbiz Saturday nights in London are difficult to describe to those not within the privileged gilded cage of creative excess.
Lewis Schaffer told the bespectacled barista girl at Waterloo Station that she did not need to wear “eye glasses”. He is an American. They have different words for things. Then he started on me.
“I stopped wearing eye glasses,” he told me, “when I realised: Why do I constantly need stronger and stronger prescriptions? I was wearing these black clunky glasses and they broke and I didn’t know what glasses to get because my trope…”
“Your what?” I asked.
“My trope… my genre, my milieu, my other French word that I don’t know what it means…”
“Your stage look,” I suggested.
“… was wearing these big thick glasses,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “but, at the time – three or four years ago – everybody started wearing these big thick black glasses…”
“Austin Powers glasses,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer. “So I thought: I’m not gonna wear the same glasses as everyone else. I gotta find a new pair. So I delayed wearing glasses, stumbled around and then realised I was doing alright without glasses.”
“Were you,” I asked, “originally long or short sighted?”
“One eye is short; one eye is long,” said Lewis Schaffer, “Like my balls.”
I think the decaffeinated tea had started to affect him.
“I see everything out of my left eye,” I told him.
“That is quite common,” he reassured me, drinking some more decaffeinated tea. “I think a lot of people have stopped using one eye. I started wearing glasses when I was 14 years old. What happens with humans is we spend all of our childhood reading and then, when we hit 18, we can’t see distances. So they give us glasses to cure the distances and we use the same glasses when we’re reading, which makes things worse. It’s like wearing a winter coat in-doors. then, when you go outside, you don’t get – as they say in this country – the benefit.”
“They don’t use the word ‘benefit’ in America?” I asked.
“Welfare,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “We have Welfare. When you go outside, you don’t get the welfare. See? It doesn’t work, does it? They wanna keep selling glasses to people. Stronger and stronger prescriptions. Specsavers is evil, because they don’t do their job which is, when they sell a pair of distance glasses, to say: Do not wear them for reading! If you do that, finally, it pulls back the focal point where you gotta hold a book behind your head before you can read it.”
“I wear bi-focals,” I said.
“They were invented by an American,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Benjamin Franklin.”
“Didn’t he invent balloons or something?” I asked.
“He invented electricity,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Lightning,” I said. “He invented lightning and storms. It was either him or Victor Frankenstein… Who said: The redcoats are coming?”
“That was… That was…” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Nick Revell,” I said. “It was Nick Revell who said The redcoats are coming!”
“Paul Revere,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Nick Revell,” I said. “What exactly is an optometrist in the US? Is it exactly the same as an optician in Britain?”
“An optometrist is a measurer of something,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Look it up.”
“In Slaughterhouse-Five,” I said, Billy Pilgrim is an optometrist in Illium.”
“I’ve never read Kurt Vonnegut,” Lewis Schaffer admitted.
“You read my blog,” I said. “You think I invented the phrase So It Goes?”
“I knew you didn’t invent that,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Can you make this conversation interesting in your blog? It’s not funny.”
“When did you stop wearing glasses?” I asked.
“About three or four years ago.”
“I never noticed,” I told him.
“No-one notices,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s like smoking cigarettes or killing hookers. They did notice when my hair went grey, but they didn’t notice when I stopped wearing glasses. I’m not saying my eyes are perfect now – because I’m old and they may never get perfect. But I think, if you’re about 20 years old and you stop wearing glasses, your eyes will improve. I’m telling you, if you wear glasses, you can take ‘em off and your eyes will get better.”
“OK,” I said. “Tomorrow – except for writing the blog and using the computer,” I will roam London without spectacles and see if I get run over by a wildebeest.”
“When you write this up as a blog,” said Lewis Schaffer, “the most important thing is to mention that, tomorrow night, I’m doing a benefit for Southwark Woods.”
“It’s not interesting,” I said.
“Times are tough. What do I do with my career?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“You should do a one-minute video every day,” I suggested. “Every day, just talk about something – anything – but not trees – and keep it short. One minute a day. It may not always be funny, but it will always be interesting and more watchable than Women in Love. You could get known and become a major cult.”
“A cult?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“A cult,” I confirmed.
So he did a test video in Waterloo Station.
It is on YouTube now.
He will never keep it up.
It’s an age and attention thing.