The Lady in the Van meets a surfeit of anoraks

There’s something disturbing about modern cinemas, y’know.

Have you tried shedding a surreptitious tear in one?

It’s light enough to see, that’s the problem. Yes, you can find your seat without crippling half the audience – or yourself – in the process, but the intimacy of the dark – it is no more.

I sort of imagined that, what with the crowd being predominantly beyond middle aged and more than 50% female, a few other folks might be blubbing, but no. So I held my breath and dabbed as unobtrusively as I could at the tears.

I was terrified I might actually sob.

But I was brave. I coped.

I loved the film. Maggie Smith is superb. But I was also skewered by the twin Alan Bennetts. A writer (Alan) and a person (Alan) living his life – or not, as author Alan jibed. Piercing as only self can pierce the self. (Well we are talking writers, here.)

I came out happier in an odd kind of way. Determined to finish my latest book (76,000 words now) and basking in the glow of a few kind words uttered by a few kind people over the years.

Yes, more than once my writing has been likened – I blush to say it – to that of Alan Bennett. And having seen the film, I shudder to think what would happen if a van turned up outside – I can just imagine …

And then, what would the neighbours think?

(Dear friend who’s contemplating buying a van and living in it – you know who you are. Please, don’t paint it yellow, with a dish mop, if ever you plan to visit.)

But, seriously, I think what those people meant, when they said it, was that I notice what ordinary people do in ordinary situations. I notice ordinary things happening.

And I suspect those people are also the kind of people who smile a small smile at the mention of Alan Bennett’s name – and categorise him as gentle. The kind of author one sets alongside tea and a toasted teacake, in a genteel tea room in Harrogate, at half past three in the afternoon.

Well, if they do, the might try reading The Laying on of Hands. I found it at the bottom of a box when we moved and realised I hadn’t read it. Cosy? Forget the tea and teacake. A little vial of vinegar, perhaps?

And as for me. Well, my book is giving me nightmares. I mean that – the sleep-related kind.

Causing me to reassess a lot of things I’ve quashed in mental self-defence for many years.

Warfare, nuclear weapons, protest. The people we trust and the assumptions underpinning the world of the everyday.

And that’s why this post is short. And why there haven’t been so many just lately. I think I should get on with it.

If ever it makes it to film (I, who should know better, the optimistic pessimist, still live in hope), then I doubt if the audience will be composed, as Sunday’s was, almost entirely of elderly men and women wearing anoraks.

I mean, yes, it was raining. But anoraks? Some, even, matching?

And yet – I noticed something odd amid the rustle of showerproof zip-ups.

Red – solid red – has gone.

Where once every ramble was punctuated by visions of mature heads nodding a greeting above matching red anoraks, now they are navy blue, fawn, or black.

Me?

What was I wearing?

I, dear readers, was wearing my expensive, resorted-to-in-desperation, navy blue raincoat with distinctive white buttons.

Fortunately, the pockets were full of tissues. I could have passed spares around if needed.

But they weren’t.

I wonder why no-one else cried?

Alan Bennett, no doubt, would know.

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4 Responses to The Lady in the Van meets a surfeit of anoraks

  1. EllaDee says:

    Fist of all I had to get up to speed about Alan Bennett… wow, he is prolific! Slowly I got up to speed… his novel of the same name has been made into a film… to be released in Australia in March 2016. Hence I had no frame of reference but have now seen the Guardian article.
    Despite the possibility of tears (but we won’t tell the G.O.) as yes, I have been known to sob in movie theatres I’d like to see it – great story and I love Maggie Smith! I’m always prepared with tissues for the tears and passed them to my neighbour… only once the G.O. who swore it was perfume allergy not tears… that was during Red Dog.
    I will also flag Alan Bennet for my To Read list in the meantime.
    I can’t say I’d mourn the red anoraks… I’m known to declare regularly “any colour except red”. And matching couple ensembles unnerves me.

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    • I should’ve explained a bit more about Mr Bennett I suppose. The other thing we have in common is that he’s a northerner – he’s from Yorkshire where I lived from the age of 7 after we moved from the arch-rival county of Lancashire. (I love them both, shh don’t tell) His work is widely loved by middle class and I suspect middle aged and older folks and he is famous for thought provoking monologues. I think his powers of observation are terrific – leading some critics to accuse him of just reporting what he sees! Maggie Smith is really amazing – do recommend it when it comes to Oz. I think for me it was partly the music that made the tears flow as it reminded me of my parental home … and both my parents are long gone. I did have a red anorak for a while but can’t say I miss them either! I realised after I had posted this that I have probably slightly offended a large number of people including several of my friends – ah well, we can’t all like the same outdoor clothing. 😉

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  2. Alison Parry says:

    Just a quick note as I prepare a funeral for tomorrow.
    Your sentence, ‘Warfare, nuclear weapons, protest. The people we trust and the assumptions underpinning the world of the everyday.’ struck a chord with me. Reading Saturday’s Guardian after a relaxing retreat, I was shocked to read about the women deceived by undercover policemen, active from 1968 until 2010! Although they have now started to receive compensation, the underlying issue is that the police spent sooo much money and over 100 police officers infiltrating environmental and anti-fascist groups, probably Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, inter alia. Probably members of Amnesty International like myself. Spooky or what? Free speech or what? I am so looking forward to your next novel.
    Love Alison xx

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    • Hi Alison, I’m sorry to hear about the funeral, my sympathy to you x
      Regarding the infiltration of organisations like Amnesty, CND certainly was infiltrated according to what I’ve read. One of the books I came across while writing this book is very disturbing indeed. It’s a purportedly factual book by a British man who worked with government security services in USA and UK but funding for a lot of what he later did (tracking down and identifying ‘subversives’) came from private businessmen and the mega rich, internationally. Right wing politicians, he claimed, knew what he was up to and he certainly met Mrs T several times. After my experience visiting Sellafield many years ago, when a man in a suit later turned up behind me at a scenic stopping point in the Lakes asking what I thought of the visitor centre, I have never underestimated the power of the big people to target the very little people who are just concerned about the health and welfare of the world in which we live. But maybe he just wanted to offer me a job as I was such a brilliant PR person! I’m not paranoid about this but I do see how easy it could be to become so – and I think it is very difficult now, with the terrorist threats, to tread a sensible line between surveillance and freedom of speech and expression.
      Hope to see you again before too long and that you are well, Mxx

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