Welcome to Episode 5! This is an episode of real contrast. We’ve a comic story from Andy Todd and a comic poem from Max Scratchmann, but also a surrealist script from Marie Yan and an extraordinary experiment from Antonia Landi, plus poetry from Peter Mackie, a reader at our first ever open mic! Enjoy, folks, and come back soon for more.
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The Poetry Event That Started On Time
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A Night at the Window
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The Almost True Story of Maurice Wilson: Mountain Hero
20 years before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing climbed Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain, a cross-dressing shoe salesman from Bradford reached the top before them. This is the little known story of Maurice Wilson – and how he swapped high heels for hiking boots and back again.
In the 1930’s Maurice Wilson had a dream. In a world bruised and battered by the Great Depression he believed a single man, with faith in the Lord, could achieve anything.
Despite working in a women’s shoe shop, despite never visiting the Himalayas, Tibet, Nepal or even Asia, Maurice reached for the stars.
But first, as practice, he climbed Mt Snowden.
Mt Snowden is in Wales, which may be cold and inhospitable (especially Cardiff) but nothing to match conditions on Everest.
To put his training into perspective, climbing Snowden to prepare for Everest is a bit like jumping in a paddling pool to swim the Atlantic. Or closing the curtains and jumping up and down in a darkened room to walk on the moon. It’s simply not enough – and Maurice knew this, so he went hiking in the Lake District. Nothing prepares you for sub-zero conditions like a ice cream cone on the banks of Lake Windermere.
In summary, to prepare for a climb that many thought impossible, Maurice did two of the three peaks in the Three Peaks Challenge. But he didn’t do them in 24 hours. Nor did he go to Ben Nevis, presumably because it was too big and far away.
Maurice though had a plan. A cunning plan. He never intended to climb Everest, he was smarter than that. Instead he would fly a plane and crash into the top of Everest, pop out of the wreck, jog to the summit and claim the mountain for Blighty!
Genius. He would climb Everest by… not climbing Everest. He must have been amazed that no-one had thought of this before.
Maurice had a problem though, another one, as not only did he not know how to climb, he also didn’t know how to fly.
Undeterred, he took flying lessons. These were not successful. His instructors refused to pass Maurice as they thought his flying was so bad he would kill himself during take off.
But that didn’t stop Maurice. Maurice had a dream, and dreams are there to be followed…
In 1933 he took off for Everest. The take off was a success, if success is judged by escaping with his life after he immediately crashed.
Three weeks later, Maurice took off again. He travelled across Europe and the Middle East in a tiny Tiger Moth plane he christened ‘Ever Wrest’. Despite the efforts of the British Government he made it to Nepal, who immediately hailed our intrepid hero, wished him all the best, and, while his back was turned, confiscated his plane to stop him crashing into their holy mountain.
Maurice could not be stopped. Despite border guards barring his way, he and two sherpas sneaked into Nepal disguised as Budhist monks.
According to his diary, Maurice, reached Everest one month later. Also, according to his diary, he would have got there faster, but he kept getting lost on the way.
History does not record whether Maurice had ever learnt to use a compass.
On May 15 1934, Maurice arrived at Everest. It was, as he suspected, remarkably like Snowden. Except 10 times bigger, 10 times colder, and without a steam train that takes pensioners all the way to the top.
But without a plane it was time for Plan B. Maurice would climb Everest singlehandedly.
This was not a success.
With no experience of climbing, no equipment, no clue what he was letting himself into, Maurice lasted five days before he had to turn back to base camp. In his diary Maurice wrote:
“It’s the weather that’s beaten me – what damned bad luck!”
But that didn’t stop Maurice. He tried a second time, and this time he made his way through faith, prayer and fasting almost all the way to the top until he was stopped by an ice wall that he couldn’t climb because, despite all his preparation, he had never learnt to use a rope.
And there he died. In a lonely tent at the foot of the wall, overcome by the cold, having failed to conquer Everest.
Or that’s what most folk think…
Here’s the thing…
Many years later, a Chinese expedition reported finding, just below the summit of Everest, a single high heeled women’s shoe. No-one could explain it. Chris Bonnington’s not known for his fondness for a patent leather pump, unless that pump inflated a belay bed at 30,000 feet.
Maurice on the other hand (or other foot) was different. It turned out that some nights former shoe salesman Maurice liked to be known as Maureen. And Maureen liked ladies shoes. And in his/her bag, in his/her tent at the base of the wall, Maureen nee Maurice had packed a floral dress.
So, how did the shoe get to the top of Everest? Could Maurice have reached the tip of the world in his high heels and floral dress? Did he use his stilettos as make shift ice axes to climb the Hilary step? Could he have reached the summit twenty years before any other man and have died on the way back down, and not on the way up, as many believe?
I’d like to think so.
One day, when temperatures rise and the top melts, we’ll find that shoe’s twin. A single high heel planted on the summit confirming that the first man on Everest with a women’s name was not Hilary but Maureen.
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The wind snows down rain waterfall.
Every people cried in the whole wide world.
And now love, beauty and madness reigns
Where such people laid my remains.
And now death breaks over the moor
While people rush to earn their living
But soon they will rush no more,
Never, never, never, please, no more.
It’s all been best in rain waterfall
For I have known people there
And their spirit cries, “No more,
Never, never, never, please, no more.”
And I hope you will be with me there,
For I have found out, I do want to stay there.
This poem is set to music at http://www.reverbnation.com/petergmackie; we unfortunately can’t embed the track.
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One of us
Tisiphone enters the stage. Noise coming from the background. A silence.
Tisiphone: Don’t do that.
A silence. Then the sound of a large vase crashing on the floor.
Alecto: (from the background) Never knew that this shit was so heavy.
Tisiphone: It was full of memories.
Alecto: Please. Go on. This is the perfect moment to get sentimental once again. (A pause) Oh. Wait. This lamp is still here? I thought you threw it away.
Tisiphone: Well, I didn’t.
The sound of the lamp crashing on the floor.
Alecto: See? Easy.
Tisiphone: I got it. Please stop.
Alecto: (stumbling in the mess) Shit.
Tisiphone: I need a drink. Do you want a drink?
Alecto: Yes, please.
Tisiphone goes to help himself to a drink. In the background, a silence, then the sound of an out of tune piano and of shoes squeaking on broken glass. Tisiphone sits back and puts down the glass on the coffee table. A silence. Alecto enters the stage, takes the glass, drinks it down and crashes it on the floor.
Alecto: (infuriated) AAAAAAAH! AH!
Tisiphone: Feeling any better?
Alecto: You know, I never trusted you for this type of job. I’ve always preferred to handle it myself.
Tisiphone: I know.
Alecto: Years passing by, I grew more confident about you. I felt that you could manage it. Deal with it properly.
Alecto: You shut the fuck up. (A pause) I should have known you were too soft. Saddening, despairing, that’s your part. I realise this job was out of your league.
Oscar: Hello. I’m here for the nightkeeper position. Yeah. Oh, is that you? Thanks for giving me this interview. It’s not been easy. You know. Prison. It scares off most people. They don’t call back once they know. Can’t blame them.
Alecto: That was so simple, though. The perfect job for you to prove yourself capable. A real chance. You could have been promoted. What did you choose to do? You chose to waste it.
Oscar: Thank you sir. That’s grand to take me. I won’t disappoint you. I’m a hard-worker. I know the job is about watching a CCTV screen and going around the building every hour, but still. I think I have just the little more confidence that allows one to do a very good job.
Tisiphone: Let’s start the whole process all over again?
Alecto: Stop. Stop that. Stop saying nonsense for fuck sake. It would take far too long. Cases have to be dealt with in time. You know that!
Oscar: We will take good care of that place. Yep. Very good care. As if it had always been ours. As if we had always been here. A very good job, that’s what we’re gonna do. We can do that. We’re not too bad.
Tisiphone: Please forgive me.
Alecto: You know how long it took me? Months. It took me months to prepare him, to make him ready for the final step. When you took it over, he was ready. All corrupted, about to surrender and blow up nicely.
Tisiphone: We can find a way to fix it.
Alecto: (panicking) And if we don’t? And if we don’t?
Oscar is standing in a nightkeeper uniform, hands behind the back. Humming a tune, doing a few steps of dance.
(Alecto and Tisiphone are hugging. Alecto is crying and sobbing.)
Tisiphone: Shhhh, shhh. It wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t strong enough. Just not strong enough. We used to be like them. I recalled it at the wrong moment.
Alecto: I gave it back to him. I gave it back to him so that he could remember what happened more easily. I wanted to make your job easier.
Tisiphone: I know, I know.
Oscar is sitting at a desk and seems bored. He has a look around suspiciously and then takes something from his pocket. It’s a weeble. He puts it on the table and gives it a nudge to make it move. He looks at it for a moment. Then, without stopping to look at the toy, he tries to reach a glass of water. He misses it and the glass goes crashing to the floor.
Oscar: AH! AAAAAAH!
Oscar is shivering from neck to toe. He presses his hands against his mouth. A pause. Then he voluntarily pushes something else to the floor with his elbow. It goes crashing to the floor too. He screams in his hands. The toy keeps swinging.
Alecto and Tisiphone, still hugging.
Alecto: (his voice shivers) You know what is going to happen to you, don’t you? You know what they do when you fail a contract?
Tisiphone nods, staring blankly above Alecto’s shoulder.
Oscar is wearing different clothes, sitting, his hands holding his knees.
A voice: Could you please make your statement of what happened?
Oscar: (A deep breath) He shouts at me. He shouts at me with his tiny annoying voice. He says I’m no good, no good at all. He says he will tell everyone who I am, what I do. He is crying. Crying and shouting and his nose runs. I try to reach him to make him stop shouting at me. To take him in my arms and tell him everything’s ok. But he spits on me and then runs away in the corridor. I run after him, to talk, just to talk. And I grab his arm and he struggles, he doesn’t want to talk. I want to shush him, but he wouldn’t. He hits everything around him. Everything. It all goes crashing on the floor. My pictures. The big pink vase. The plants in their ceramic pots. It’s noisy, terribly noisy. Everything’s crashing. Except… Except… I just want to talk and he doesn’t. I hold him. And then. And then… (He sobs)
The light changes.
Alecto and Tisiphone, standing.
Alecto: I love you.
Tisiphone: I love you too.
Alecto: Better be me.
Alecto: It will be quicker if it’s me. It won’t hurt you as much, I promise.
Alecto opens his arms and they hug again.
Oscar is back at his desk, wearing the nightkeeper uniform, his hands around his ears. He cries and sniffs. Then pushes something else from his desk. He curls up, waiting for the sound but it doesn’t break. He sits back straight, shivering. Then a invisible string pulls something else from his desk. It makes an awful noise. He cries out of surprise. Another thing is pulled out from his desk. And then, another. Soon, only sounds of objects crashing. He curls up on the floor, nothing is moving except him. New sounds, louder and louder. We hear undistinctly the sound of a struggle in the background. The sounds eventually diminishes and Oscar starts laughing quietly to himself. He soon bursts out laughing, completely miserable. Tisiphone enters and watches Oscar a few moment, he is holding a large ugly pink vase, hesitating to break it down. Oscar reaches the weeble on the desk and cuddles it.
Tisiphone: I don’t know why it’s so hard. I’ve always been good at the whole thing. How could have this one escaped me? One after the others, they all fell. A razor, a rope, a gun. They all did what they were supposed to as I was already cleaning up after them, hoovering the pieces of the life they quit broken. I’ve always felt that I was helping them: making their mind clearer and their guilt close to holiness. I wanted a new challenge I suppose. I had always admired the other side of this. My job was about time and loneliness, this one was about the rhythm. The right time. The moment. The breach. Just the right move that breaks them and takes them down to their knees. I wanted to reach the point where I would need to feel exactly the same as you to get it right. It lost me.
The light changes. They disappear.
Alecto enters the stage, carrying a bloody saw. He goes to pick up Tisiphone’s empty glass from the coffee table. He stares at it and holds it tight against him. He remains motionless for a moment. The light changes to reveal Oscar sitting back at his desk, staring blankly, the toy gently swinging in front of him. Alecto rises his head to look at him.