I’ve been in a reflective mood this week.
Firstly, I watched the latest update over two consecutive nights of the series Child of Our Time which is a long term (20 years) BBC documentary following 25 or so children all born in the Millennium. I have a Millennium baby myself (and was asked to take part in the series but declined.)
Although I think the programme has lost its way a bit, in that there is little social commentary anymore, seeing how the parents have physically aged, one mother in turmoil over whether she did the right thing over being a stay at home mother and not following her career (we’ll never know, will we?” she said) seeing the videoclips of the children being born, as toddlers, starting school – their lives on fast forward. How weird it must be to see your life compressed like that. It seemed to me that all the parents had split up (although it said only 50% had – reflecting the national average) but coupled with one of the mothers dying from cancer, the grief of stillbirth, prematurity, divorce, Parkinson’s, bullying, an Asperger’s diagnosis, I was a wreck by the end. To me, at least, they didn’t show any of the positives in parenting teenagers – it was, bar a few exceptions, doom and gloom. They all seemed to be saying ‘that’s it, you’ve done your best, now they’re going to be moving out, leaving home.’ My thirteen year old needs me for a little while yet I hope.
Then on Saturday night I went to see Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The story is told in reverse order – so it starts in 1976 in the middle of a party for golden boy, man of the moment Franklin Shepherd, who seems to have it all, but you quickly realise it is a portrayal of disillusionment, friendships shattered, alcoholism, adultery, and then winds its way back to 1957 where it’s all wide eyed optimism and youthful idealism. It’s about three best friends – two men, Frank and Charlie, who are a composer and lyricist respectively and they gradually fall out and can no longer bear to work with one another. The third, Mary, is in (unrequited) love with Frank, going back years, and ends up an embittered alcoholic.It’s not nearly as grim as I’ve made it sound – in fact it was full of laughs and some great dance routines, but in Sondheim’s own inimitable way, it makes you think of your dreams and hopes and how you ended up where you are. The refrain kept coming:
Tend Your Dream
How Does it Happen
When does it disappear? Choices to make
Time goes by
How can you get so far off the track?
Why don’t you turn around and go back?
It brought up lots of emotions. Remembering one New Year’s Eve years ago where we all sat round and divulged our dreams of what we really wanted to do, how we saw our lives panning out. To where all those friends are now and what things they’ve been through, and what, to use a cliche, life has thrown at them.
Telling a story in reverse order is really hard to do I think – what does it add? Why do it this way and not the regular linear way? If you read the play/book forwards it should work too. Pinter’s Betrayal famously does this too – starts at the end and works its way to the beginning, and Sarah Waters’ novel The Night Watch, set in the Blitz, which I love.
It made me think of friends who fall out, and the reasons why. It made me think of the programme I watched not long ago about Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Gifford who made up the pop group Squeeze and how they fell out and didn’t really speak to each other for about seven years. Whoever it is, Joy Division, The Smiths, Fleetwood Mac – even Bucks Fizz - they all seem to fall out. As a child with ABBA posters plastered all over my wall, I was heartbroken when they split up. In these programmes, they always seems to have to film them separately, or one of the key members is tellingly absent, or in a legal wrangle over who owns the band name or squabbles over royalties. I suppose spending that much time with the same people, the pressure of fame and travelling, creative differences, must get to them in the end. But I just want them to be friends for ever.
Nothing’s the way that it was
I want it the way that it was
Help me stop remembering then
Merrily We Roll Along – Like It Was