About nicholaswhitehead

Performance poet, writer and mediator. Previously worked as ITV journalist and producer, newspaper crime correspondent, features editor.

Back from the Toothache Zone

For nearly three weeks, I have had chronic toothache. Not just chronic – stereochronic! An upper incisor and a lower molar suffered from dying nerves and the incisor had a bacterial infection as well. Can’t sleep, can’t think, can’t bloody stand it. Apart from anything else, constant pain is so bloody tiring.

I have had three visits to the dentist and two weeks of antibiotics. The second week was the dreaded Metronidazole which gives you stomach cramps and is the one that really doesn’t go with alcohol. So you have to renounce a civilised pleasure as well as put up with pain.

What about fencing?

I’m afraid I’ve packed that in for the time being. prancing about on a hard floor for two hours is not good for over-sensitive teeth. Anyway, the dental work is not yet finished but the pain has diminished greatly. Looks like I’ll need root canal work on the molar next week but, for now, I can think, write, sleep and even drink wine again. So life is good. I expect I’ll re-start the fencing course next time it comes around. Right, now I must pay my gas bill. Oh, it’s good to be back.

The Gun of Jesus

The video mentioned in my previous post – The Gun of Jesus – is now available for viewing on YouTube.

I suppose I should brace myself for some hate mail but, with a bit of luck, the gun-slingin’ tea-party types might miss the irony and take it as a sensible question. What kind of gun would Jesus use?

If you like it, please alert your Facebook friends, Twitter contacts and so on.

A good show!

The movie-makers’ evening at Chapter was very pleasant. I had feared ‘artistic’ temperaments and bitter rivalry but no. It was a good crowd of creative people coming up with very different films. We had documentary and drama and a variety of budgets. Some had been made over two years; mine was shot and edited in a few hours. Despite its lack of filmic cleverness, The Gun of Jesus was well received and I was approached by two people who were interested in collaborative projects with a poet. Watch this space.

My favourite film was called ‘The Claw’ which was set in Barry Island.

The Gun of Jesus

I haven’t written much lately because I’ve had serious toothache for the past eight days. Yes, I’ve seen the dentist and am going back on Wednesday.

Anyway, this evening at Chapter Arts Centre, they’re showing a video of my performance poem, The Gun of Jesus. It was good of them to include it in the schedule because this is really a showcase for local film makers. Filmically, it’s very basic but, with the unusual ‘script’ and performance, it should at least be different.

Something more like a ‘proper’ film will be Snooks Aquatic by Clare Sturges.

The show starts at 6.15, Chapter, Cardiff.

Deeper into the Web!

Just been on a two-day ‘writing for the web’ course organised by the NUJ. 

Before I was made redundant, I never went on these courses because I was too busy working and, if ITV wanted me to learn something, they’d train me at their expense and in their own time. Now, however, I am free to make my own decisions about what training I do. The tutor was Simon Williams who teaches at Cardiff University’s Journalism School and is a webmaster for various bodies, including Friends of the Earth.

If you click on the blue ‘NUJ’ in the first paragraph, you should be linked through to the NUJ Training Wales website. I didn’t know it was so easy to make such links until I did this course. I’ll go back over previous posts and link to Cardiff Fencing Club and things like that.

Most of all, this course made me realise, more than ever, that the web is getting bigger and stronger and more important all the time. There is so much that can be done with it. It’s arguably bigger than the industrial revolution and more of a force for global social change than any political movement.

Whatever I choose to do in the future, it will almost certainly benefit from my being up-to-date with the latest developments in the web and the opportunities they all present.

Next month, I’m doing a website-building course and I might fit in a social media one before that.

I go back to work … sort of.

Just as an orchestral work has a score, a recorded television programme has a ‘timeline’ which is produced, second by second, in the edit suite. Just as a score is a series of instructions, read from left to right, so is a timeline. The instructions are written in special code, much as in music, so that the right thing happens at the right time. This could be something like: the black-and-white picture of the gasworks cross-fades to the colour footage of the sunrise. The brass-band background music fades out and the first words of interview clip number eight come in. At the start of the second sentence, cut to the video of that person talking.

After a while, it becomes quite reassuring to see a programme taking shape this way. I didn’t think I would miss it. But I was wrong.

Now that I’ve handed back my camera kit and no longer have access to the editing equipment, my wife asks me (for the first time ever) to help with filming and editing some interviews for a training course she’s presenting at the university where she works. Timing, eh?

So the university finds a video camera and a tripod and my wife arranges for the interviewees to be in a certain room at 10.00am . Once again, I am a producer, directing the shoot. This involves much improvisation such as standing an Anglepoise lamp on a chair on top of a table in order to get some light on the interviewees’ faces.

The hard bit was the editing. What the hell do I do with this tape? How do I get it into my computer? What (free-trial version) editing software should I use? I looked at Microsoft Movie Maker and one or two others but they seemed feeble and over-simple. The software tried to guess what I wanted to do and not let me do anything else. I couldn’t see a familiar timeline with separate video tracks and audio tracks. No proper collection of editing tools anywhere. So I hit on the idea of asking the university’s Journalism School. Despite the reservations of the university’s IT people, this was a good plan. They had a proper AVID edit suite and a tech-savvy chap who could troubleshoot.

So, on Monday morning, I was back at the usual job – writing a score on the familiar ‘stave’ of an AVID timeline. The edited interviews were used today – and they worked. Hooray!

This really is about fencing!

Last night was my second fencing lesson, organised by Cardiff Fencing Club. As was entirely predictable, the sports-centre, changing-room ambiance was easily bearable as I focused more on the business of swordsmanship. It’s this ‘get-used-to-it’ factor that has enabled sports centres and their changing rooms to stay the same for so long.

Right, so there are three types of sword used in fencing, the foil, the epee and the sabre. Apologies, especially to the likes of Vanessa Mitchell and Patricia Ann McKinnes for the absence of accents.

So there are ten of us beginners, nine men, one woman. Geoff Keay, our instructor, explains the evolution of swords from heavy, slashing weapons to lightweight sidearms used for stabbing. We are using the epee, longer than a foil, shorter than a sabre.

We are standing there in stab-proof clothing which zips up at the back. Mostly, it doesn’t fit very well because it’s the club’s kit and you have to rummage around in piles of stuff to find a jacket, glove and visor that you can put on. There are instructions about safety precautions, then footwork, balance, how to hold the sword and then the good bit. We are arranged in pairs and told to stab each other in the chest. It’s good fun. You can see your sword striking your opponent and it doesn’t hurt when he scores a hit on your chest.

Then Geoff says “Now go for the face.”

Really? Even though we have wire-mesh visors, we all hesitate before tentatively jabbing our opponents’ faces. Somehow, far more than going for the torso, this action reminds us that this martial art is not just self defence; this is about killing the other guy.

You can stab your opponent from a standing position or by lunging at him. The former is quicker but the latter can be done from a safer distance. Then there are the parries – ways of deflecting the incoming blade – and then the ripostes. If your opponent is close enough to strike you, he’s close enough to be struck. So, if you’ve succeeded in knocking his blade out of the way, he’s defenceless. Go for it.

Two hours passes quickly, no-one gets hurt and then most of us go to the pub. A pleasant evening followed by a very good night’s sleep. (That’s probably more than enough links but I’ve been on a course and I’m practising.)

In the morning, my legs feel heavy and my thigh muscles ache from prancing about in a knees-bent way for a couple of hours. All-in-all, it feels good. Looking forward to next time.

En garde! I take up fencing

One of the guests (I don’t know which one) at my leaving do suggested I take up fencing. So I have. It’s good.

The good bit is that you get to use swords in a disciplined way. It seems very safe indeed as the swords have rubbery blobs to cover their pointed tips and, as well as that, you’re wearing stab-proof clothing and a mask of stiff wire mesh.

Look, I’ll tell you about the good stuff later, OK? First, I just have to mention why fencing, squash, swimming, badminton and pretty much any sport you can think of is a bit depressing. Sports centres are essentially the same as they were forty years ago. They have stayed still while everything else has moved on. Motorway service stations used to be like prison canteens. Greengrocers had never heard of avocados and you couldn’t get olive oil in a supermarket. On cold mornings, cars wouldn’t start. Pubs used to be full of cigarette smoke and they sold dreadful beer such as Watney’s Red Barrel. Cafes used to serve instant coffee made with sterilised milk.  And a bottle of rough Chianti cost as much as a hardback novel – if you could find a shop that sold wine.

In forty years, we have seen gigantic leaps forward in the material quality of life and leisure. Instead of plimsols, we have brightly coloured, computer-engineered running shoes. Instead of bone-shaking, all-steel bicycles, we have lightweight aluminium jobs with 21 gears instead of just three. Or mountain bikes with sprung forks and ergonomic saddles. Everything’s iPods and day-glo spandex.The depressing dreariness of yesteryear has been swept away by a 21st-Century tide of individualism. Except in sports centres.

The place where I went for my fencing lesson reminded me all too clearly of my old school gym. Or the municipal public baths. Or RAF Gaydon. Everywhere smells of old socks and disinfectant. After I’d climbed two flights of stairs and found the hall where the fencing takes place, I asked if there were any changing rooms. No. If you want to get changed, you have to go down three flights of stairs to the basement. OK, if I want to play with swords, I have to go to the dungeon first. It isn’t dirty or creepy or anything but it is rather brutal, like the basement of a police station. I pushed the door marked ‘men’.

It’s called a changing room but it’s the one thing in this fashion-crazy, customer-focused  bright new world that doesn’t ever change. A low ceiling, a tiled floor and the smell of sweaty socks in between. There are showers which make the air steamy and there are little puddles on the  floor where men have walked, dripping, to their lockers. This is the room where you are stripped of your identity. You take your clothes off and put them into a numbered locker. The lockers aren’t tall enough for you to hang a jacket but there is a stumpy little hook inside anyway.

There are no seats, that would be too individual. You get a long, communal bench where you dress and undress with other guys. Same as in school, same as in the military. It makes sense there, where teamwork is paramount. But what about the modern, grown-up, civilian world? Is there no choice? Has anyone looked into this? Is it time for change in the changing room?

If you know of anywhere that does it in a more civilised way, let me know.

Gosh, look at the time. Fencing will have to wait for the next blog.

Oh no. Not the beige cardigan!

I have always worn a jacket. I was probably four years old when I first put on a blazer and I’ve been accustomed to having four pockets – two outside, two inside – ever since. Inside left pocket is my wallet; inside right, the little notebook. Ball-point pen on the left, fountain pen on the right. In the old days, the left outside pocket would contain a packet of Camel cigarettes and there was a Zippo lighter in the outside right. (The Swiss Army knife would be in a trouser pocket.) Before leaving the house, I’d slip on the jacket, tap the pockets to check the proper contents were in place and I was ready to tackle the world.

In the very old days – the days of blazers – there would be a words-only version of Hymns Ancient & Modern in the breast pocket. It was against the school rules to appear in assembly without your hymnbook. You could be given detention, or possibly the cane for repeated offences. So it was best to have your hymnbook with you at all times.

In recent years (blimey, it’s the last three decades!) Blimey! Right, so …Thirty years ago I gave up smoking so I must have looked as svelte as an Italian with my empty outside pockets until mobile phones appeared in genuine pocket size. I carried two – one work, one personal. The personal one, on the right, was a smart phone which I missed even more than the old fag packet if I didn’t have it on me.

But jackets are for the outside world. In my office, in your office, in a pub or a cafe, I would wear a jacket. But in the house, it feels too heavy, too stiff. But if I wear just a shirt, in January, it’s a bit chilly. So I thought about a cardigan. Aaagh! I must be officially old! And looking at these sandy-coloured cords and this stripey shirt, I thought: ‘A sort of oatmeal colour would be good.’

If anyone reading this has experienced the cardigan moment, please add a comment and let me know what happens. Once you get the cardigan, is there any way back?