Just Write: Week 4, 10th February

Session 4 of what is steadily becoming the highlight of my week was largely dedicated to idea generation, particularly with respect to potentially funny ideas. The homework from the previous week had been to write about something that had made you laugh and the class followed on from that.

I had actually found the homework pretty difficult. I just didn’t have a particularly funny week and, in turn, this made me reflect on all sorts of vaguely depressing things about how, actually, things just were less funny now than they used to be. Only I could turn homework that was designed to put a smile on your face and find a way for it to make me miserable. Lol. As I believe the young folk might say.

Anyway, I didn’t actually do the homework in time for the class as the piece I was going to write just wasn’t funny or didn’t strike me as in the spirit of what was asked for. I probably should have written it regardless. However, I have now found – hopefully – a happy balance between light and shade in something that did happen to me last week. I won’t outright claim that it’s “funny” as only you will be able to judge that for me. I quite like it though:

“You’re not going to make me look permanently surprised are you ?”

The hairdresser stared at me in the mirror quizzically. It had been a joke. She hadn’t got it. Maybe, to be fair to her, it wasn’t really a joke. 

I hadn’t given much thought to my eyebrows before but now, apparently, they were the main event. Cause for discussion. Cause for judicious pruning. It had started about six months ago on another visit to the hairdresser; finishing off my hair the woman that ran the place had casually asked if I wanted my eyebrows doing. Caught unawares I’d stammered some sort of refusal and left. Surely that had been some kind of mistake ?

Then it happened again the next time I was in and this time with a different hairdresser. Again I was caught off guard and refused but now I was concerned. Twice can’t be a mistake. Not with two different people. I inspected my eyebrows in the mirror at home with new found curiosity. What would constitute out of control eyebrows anyway ? I mean, they’re pretty big and bushy but not running amok across my forehead. Small children aren’t pointing and laughing in the streets. No one has given me a pair of tweezers as a subtle gift.

So this time I was ready for the question, was ready to engage in the world of eyebrow depilation. The sheet draped over my clothes, tucked in to my jumper like a giant napkin, was slowly covered with dustings of my hair. I was struck again by the changing proportions of dark to grey, black to white, like some elaborate game of chess played out on my head. The grey and white pieces are starting to win and black’s position looks lost without chemical assistance. The face staring back at me doesn’t look like one of those “Just For Men” faces. Not yet at least. For a start my eyebrows are evidently too big.

Daydreaming about the disconnect between the age I feel in my heart and the reality presented to me follicly I am thus, once again, caught out by the question:

“Do you want me to do your eyebrows ?”

I just catch myself before I blurt my standard demurral.

“What needs doing to them ?”

I ask it in the least defensive way I can. It still sounds pretty defensive.

“Just tidy them up – take off the long hairs”

She clearly thinks I’m mad. Which men of your age don’t have their eyebrows trimmed her reflected stare is screaming ? I mean, look at those furry monstrosities. So I surrender to it. I make a mental note to draw the line at getting one of those nose trimmers but accept that it’s only a matter of time before my ears need some attention.

“Okay… You’re not going to make me look permanently surprised are you ?”

She didn’t. Besides I spent most of the remaining day with my newly shorn brows furrowed in a frown anyway. Time – and facial hair it seems – waits for no man.

The idea generation in the class involved making two separate lists of nouns or proper nouns alongside each other – first things that came to mind – and then looking to combine any two of the randomly selected words and running with it. We had everything from the mundane – iron, table, paint – to the unusual – ventriloquist, taxidermist, leggy blonde (a running gag in the group) – and a variety of people and places – Gordon Brown, Mick Jagger, Tring. A whole host of others. From this it was surprising how easily you could end up with some potential jump off points for, at the least, vignettes. We had the ventriloquist in a steam room and there are some good possibilities there in voice throwing, face hidden. It got a bit out of hand when we put a bishop, the leggy blonde and Gordon Brown in with them…

After that we were given (in a similar vein) a character and a specific trait and had 10 minutes to write something. So here’s my obsessive compulsive driving instructor:

“Hands at ten to two please”

I adjusted my grip.

“No Mr Robson. Not 14.12. Ten to two please.”

Cautiously I moved my hands a fraction on the wheel and glanced across for approval. I was met with the sensation of my seatbelt catching me as the car ground to a halt. Hands reached over, moved mine a further half centimetre on the wheel. A pocket watch appeared in front of my eyes.

“See Mr Robson ?”

I looked at the watch face.

“Ten to two ?” I ventured.

“Ten to two”.

I checked my mirror and let out the clutch, ready to move on with the lesson.

“Why don’t we try the three point turn Mr Robson ?” asked the voice to my left. “Please turn the car around and line up with the kerb facing in the opposite direction.”

The road was narrow and, for fear of hitting the pavement, I clumsily turned the car around.

“A three point turn Mr Robson” sighed the voice. “Again please”.

I tried again.

“Three Mr Robson. Not multiples of three.”

“It’s too narrow… I don’t think the Highway Code is clear that it has to be three” I muttered.

“The code is not precise enough for me. Very well. At least align the vehicle with the kerb”.

I looked down out of the window. The car appeared straight.

“I don’t understand…”

“Align. Line up. Parallel. Please Mr Robson.”

Half heartedly I moved the car forwards, turning the wheel slightly, before stopping again. My instructive nemesis unsnapped his seatbelt and wordlessly left the car. I watched him in the offside mirror – he was pulling a tape measure from his suit pocket. He disappeared from view.

“Rear… 3.27 centimetres from kerb” he announced. I daren’t look as he moved up the side of the car. “Front… 3.39 centimetres”.

There was a deep sigh from somewhere down to my right and he then appeared at my window.

“Is that aligned Mr Robson ?”

“It’s very close…” I offered.

“The road is no respecter of very close Mr Robson”

And that was where I ran out of time and inspiration. In the class I didn’t really like it and I’d decided I didn’t really like it about half way in – I thought it was a one note idea and it ran out of steam pretty quickly. Also I couldn’t think of how to finish it. However, looking at it now – and reflecting on feedback in the class – there are elements that work okay. The perspective is quite interesting and there is something there of the atmosphere when you’re learning to drive so it’s not an unmitigated disaster. If I was going to finish it then I’d probably manufacture some accident that befalls the instructor, arising directly from his fastidiousness. Comedy gold.

Break for half term next week but, in the meantime, as ever, any thoughts or comments very welcome.

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