Happy Father’s Day …

18/06/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

Great and the Good by Jan Moran Neil

My father died on St. Swithin’s day, 1977, and it rained for a long time after that.
We were given no notice of this major event. He lived three score years, depriving us of those very important ten, when he could have seen me married, could have seen his last grandchild born; could have known her, if only for moments. My daughter will only ever know her grandfather through my eyes.
He was the steely structure around which we built our lives and when he died, the foundations were almost blown apart.
I suppose I should have read the writing on those walls which once existed. But at twenty two, you have mental dyslexia. Unplanned events shock you. You haven’t learned to watch out for life’s secrets. But then, what can prepare you for the sudden failing of a heart? Even if you are given last moments which are irreversibly spiralling downward.
My father planned everything. He planned my birth, whilst Mum always says she has no idea how it happened at all. So heavily into planning was he, that we were stunned to think that he could not have been aware of his imminent departure. One week after his death, I realised that he could not have possibly known. A renewed
ten year passport arrived in the post. It is clearly my most redundant possession and yet my heart has never been able to part with it.
No. My father was more prepared for his death when he was stationed in Nairobi during the war. His letters, immaculately uncensored, reminded his mother that there was thirteen pounds in his Post Office savings account, which could be claimed from the superintendent “should anything happen to me”. Apparently my grandmother sat in her Belfast terraced house and cried for days afterwards.
I believe the key to my father’s sudden surprise in his last moments was given to me in our Ford Escort van outside the Cash and Carry store when I was seven years old. After a deal of philosophising about the unknown secrets of life and the stacking of tinned tomatoes, I told him that death frightened me. He said, “Then don’t give it any attention.”
He held no death insurance. “That’s like backing a horse you don’t want to win,” he said.
Dad’s unplanned event shocked him. He gave himself over to mental dyslexia on a voluntary basis. He would never have agreed to teach my sister’s eldest daughter ‘Battleships’ if he felt that he was not going to fulfil that promise. We were so cross about the ‘Battleships’ and absence of his UHU glue for filling the gaps. Grief is a long, hard road no matter how many times you have been round the track.
In the years following his death, I searched for pieces of him in anybody. I scoured the streets for his likeness in the faces of old men, despising them for their differences and their survival.
I looked into myself for a recognition of the inevitable genes that must be passed on. I saw none. It is only in recent years, when identity has become more fully stamped that I see the similarities. He was able to settle the attention of a room upon himself with one subtle stroke and a string of jokes. I’m not a straight copy. I’ll do it with anecdotes.
We found my father’s secrets in the week after he died. Cupboards full of them. Notebooks full of those jokes in alphabetical order, with key words to aid memory. He was heavily into mnemonics. I realise in writing this that I have my own notebooks. Each anecdote is carefully recorded for future public scrutiny. There’s the love of order and penny counting, an insistence on dental hygiene and the similar way I labour the changing of car gears.
What else did he pass on? Eccentricities. Like the time he laid eggs on East Croydon station. He asked my mother to sew up the pocket in his overcoat. He boiled the eggs at work. He ran for the train.
My sister and I watched a man in the main street, surrounded by people, staring up at the sky, lost in thought. It was ages before we realised it was Dad.
I have shopped in carpet slippers and once set out in mid-winter for Africa in ballet pumps.
He told me we were here for our children; to give them a better life than we have ever had. And that our children would pass that on, until eventually there would come a generation that would have this planet and other planets for themselves. Heaven.
He gave me his surname. He gave me his initials. J.E. And he called me by my own Christian name, without offering up any pretentious nicknames.
What he wasn’t able to give me after the age of twenty two, was his presence and the lumps of nepotism I watched being heaped upon my contemporaries. And I was angry with him for it.
I was angry that he had spent his life posting me notifications of what the future might bring and failed to deliver his final notice. I was angry not that he said the cup of tea I made him was rotten, but that he had not told me it was his last one. It was the most important cup of tea I was ever to make in my life and I didn’t know.
My dad ‘raged against the dying of the light’ in those last moments, whilst I looked on helplessly and my sister held a bottle of Lucozade. My mum told him it was going to be all right. It was not
going to be all right for a long time. We were to continue raging for him; with one another and against one another.
The day after his own mother died, I took the train up to Victoria with him. He was heading for the sleeper to Stranraer and for her Belfast funeral. He silently took a secret from his coat pocket. He
smoothed his thumb over the creased faces on a faded brown and cream photograph, as if in a caress. It was a photograph of his father and himself, aged about nine. I was nineteen. I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather or my own father as a child.
“Do you still remember him?” I asked naively. I was then the same age that he had been when he lost his father.
“He is as clear and close to me as my mother is now,” he replied. Then back into the cupboard of his pocket the smoothed out photo went. He looked out of the train window and stared up at the sky.
There are moments which herald the future and this was one of them. Doors open and the future comes bounding in. I lost him quite soon after that railway ride. For, on his insistence, I was to accept a good job in Canada. And, setting aside the months after his death when I could no more tell you what he looked like than God, I can safely say I carry a clear picture of him in some pocket of my brain. That is all I am doing now, some twenty years on; taking the picture out and showing it the light.
Above all, my father gave me his ordinariness. Few are born to be great. We were born to be ordinary. I cannot paint this man with words. And I cannot describe the sense of ‘all rightness’ I felt when I looked out from the school stage on first nights and caught the light from a Fresnal glinting on his huge spectacles.
He was not a famous illustrator, or writer, or movie star or a successful businessman. He worked as a railway clerk at Clapham Junction station. He owned a grocery shop. He did shift work and he wasn’t always there on Christmas mornings because people still had to travel.
He was a man who gained respect by what he did rather than what he said. “A gentleman and a scholar,” they said of him at his Orange funeral on the Newtownards Road. “A man who always paid his dues to the Lodge promptly and in full.”
But he could be pedantic. He switched off lights when you were in
the room to save on fuel. He paid up domestic bills before we went on holiday leaving us short of the extra luxuries. He could talk dental appointments when you wanted to talk career crisis. I cannot count ‘quality time’ conversations with him past the age of eleven. He never
hugged me past the age of nine.
He never sat on a pedestal. He doesn’t now. I did not worship the ground that he walked upon, because he and his Protestant ethic taught me to worship nothing but our Creator. In short, and in time, we re-built our walls because he had laid the foundations so solidly.
My father was not great. Good job; I had no need of great men when I was a child.
But he was a good man. Good enough. For me.

Highly commended in Amicus Short Story Competition.

Our Home Movies … by Ms Paige Turner

06/06/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Screenocean’s Anna Ison interviews me regarding our Home Movie Footage’.
We have some fascinating home movies and travelogues from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s held within our Jan Moran Neil/Linda Ralph collection. It’s a nostalgic collection documenting post Second World War working class family life and captures golden moments from that period. Highlights include celebrations of the Queen’s 25th Jubilee in 1977 featuring the Queen and Prince Philip arriving and greeting people as well as some fantastic scenes of Jubilee’ street parties with Union Jacks, homemade crowns and long tables filled with party food.
The collection mainly depicts London but also documents UK caravan holidays and trips to Paris and Venice, including various scenes of Orange Men parading in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
We spoke to Jan Moran Neil about the collection to discover what the films mean to her and find out the real gems of footage she cherishes most.
What’s your favourite footage captured?
I think the footage of me dancing and curtseying around our Ford Escort van. I went into the professional theatre so I learnt to curtain call early on. It’s lovely to be able to look back and see how our family relationships played out at the time. My sister, Linda was eight years older than me and at times acted like a second mother to me, which you can really pick up on when you look back and observe the body language. My sister worked in our grocery shop after school so she had to grow up quickly.
How was the footage filmed?
My dad and sister filmed all the footage on cine camera. It’s especially nice that my sister was able to capture my dad on film too. There’s a sense of continued contact when we watch the films as we lost him early on in our lives. The rolls of film were all stored in our loft, with a projector to play it back on and watch the footage as it was projected on our living room wall.
How would you describe the collection to someone who hasn’t seen it?
It’s a historical document. The footage captures a family after the war, full of hope and ambition for a better standard of living. My father worked hard – , but in those days we played pretty hard as well! For example, there’s footage of me running around in open spaces with the poodle, as there wasn’t the living space that many enjoy these days.
Was your father always fascinated with film?
I think more so than my mother, but it was always a joint effort between my father and sister to record and capture family moments on film. Film making became a part of my dad’s rare leisure activity, rather than something he did for work.
What does the collection mean to you?
Having family members captured on film; seeing ourselves in our former glorious youth. There aren’t too many photos of us as children. It’s so lovely that we can share this footage with our family, my daughter and our granddaughters, and future generations to come, knowing that Screenocean is preserving and using it. We didn’t have the plethora of digital footage available now, which is taken so much for granted, so this inherited three hours of film is a historical document to be cherished.
To find out how to license this footage: mailto:info@screenocean.com

Creative Ink for Actors’ 20th Anniversary Reunion or ‘Seeing it in the Trees’

21/05/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Creative Ink for Actors’ 20th Anniversary Reunion’ or ‘See it in the Trees’.
At the end of term in the summer of 2002, a honey-eyed young student asked if I would write and produce a play for the departing BND students and I said, ‘Yep’.
Twenty years later ‘Blackberry Promises’, ‘Good Things from Bad Rubbish’, ‘Brave Hearts & Baggage’, ‘The Deadly Factor’ written par moi, ‘Bird Bath’ by Leonard Melfi and a film ‘Dear John, Dear Anyone’ (12 parting shots by different writers) had been produced by 2012. In the past ten years: reading from my poetry collection ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ and from my novels ‘Blackberry Promises’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Clock’ (all available on Amazon) have been performed also at Amersham Barn Hall. For the recent reunion the multi-talented Kerria baked a cake and decorated it with all the productions written in icing and with all correct upper and lower case intact.
The width and breadth of actors and techies stretch to roundabout thirty and so on this reunion I was anticipating and expecting a hefty turnout as partners and children were also invited. But alas, when the week came, work, auditions, upcoming new babies, booked holidays competed for our reuniting. All worthy. Some just had better things to do and some didn’t bother to reply to a well ‘headed up’ date.
But on the day, some of the loveliest people I know, came with joy – including that young honey-eyed former student. And when the fizz and laughter bubbled I remembered what hard-working fun it had all been. The overriding emotion was just enjoying the day for what it was and I recalled a Philosophy lecture at the end of my Royal Central School of Speech and Drama course entitled ‘The Seriousness of Study’. I didn’t bother to attend. But I heard that cheese and fizz had been laid on in abundance and those who pitched up have all been very smug for fifty years.
Enfin, when I was giving Jenny (who played Zelda Mabs in ‘Blackberry Promises’) and her husband a lift back to the station, she said, ‘Oh, Jan. Think what you gave those young people and all the fun we had.’
And then before I could reply her husband Jai said from the back of the car, ‘What amazing topiary you have in this part of the world’.
And do you know? I haven’t stopped noticing the shape of our wonderful trees since …
Postscript: I am now branching out into narrating audio books, so if you want one spoken for Amazon etc, inbox me.

‘Dialogue with the Queen …’

07/05/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

I know I have posted this one before but there we are …

‘Dialogue with the Queen’ by Jan Moran Neil

Last night I dreamt the Queen said to me,
“Oh Janet, weren’t you in the crowd at Jubilee
in … nineteen-seventy-seven?
Wasn’t it that little town in Devon?”

“Falmouth,” I replied.

“Ah yes, and in nineteen-eighty-two
at Regent’s Park, we remember asking you -
‘how has been the weather?’”

I said“I replied to you, ‘not bad’ but I lied.
In fact the weather could not have been wetter.”

“Janet,” said she,
“you were the invisible voice of Puck’s fairy.
This, I believe, is what you have always been …
a little one doing good deeds unseen,
It’s always so nice to see you
and we are always so interested too
to know how you are in particular.
And so is the Duke of Edinburgh.”

This is called ‘illusions of grandeur’.

It’s true – I was in the crowd in Falmouth in 1977 when the Queen had been Queen for twenty-five years. Then I did meet her and the Duke of Edinburgh, as I was an invisible First Fairy in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Regent’s Park in 1982. But the dialogue is all fiction as the last line states. In my dreams.

‘Living …’

24/04/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Living …’ by Ms Paige Turner
The screenplay of the film was written by Kazuo Ishiguro: one of my favourite authors. He’s author of ‘Artist of the Floating World’, ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Remains of the Day’.
Ishiguro’s themes often centre upon our achievements in life: what we have given ourselves to, sometimes without giving it too much thought. Mr Williams, played by Bill Nighy in the film ‘Living’ is given six months to live. What does he do with those months? What have we done with our lives?
I believe that if we never ponder this question then we have not had the privilege of growing old enough, or we have to merely survive or we are perhaps too self-satisfied.
My mother had Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ pinned to her wall long before doing so became a cliché . I remember her reading the poem and emphasizing, ‘Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;’
On the edge of my eighth decade I now understand. We are of course, the sum of all our parts. We hope to serve a purpose. Ishiguro’s message is surely, ‘Make sure that purpose carries meaning’.
20th Anniversary Celebration of Creative Ink for Actors – Saturday 13th May.

‘Two Blogs in One …’

18/04/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Two Blogs in One …’ by Ms Paige Turner
I’ve been away fishing in Fish Hoek, Cape Town for the past six weeks and attended some lectures and book groups. Finuala Dowling was lecturing at the first in Simon’s Town. Her novel ‘The Man Who Loved Crocodile Tamers’ I enjoyed and I loved her collection of poetry ‘Pretend You Don’t Know Me’/Kwela Books.
From her collection:
‘All this brouhaha about birthdays and first days
while anniversaries of lastness pass us by.’
Oh, how true.
I attended Dawn Garisch’s lecture on Memoir. Dawn runs the Life Righting Collective www.liferighting.com and I read her creative non-fiction book ‘Eloquent Body’. As a doctor, Dawn writes about keeping the body, mind and memory in balance.
I ran the Fish Hoek Scribblers workshop on ‘Colour’ whilst also reading my short story monologue ‘Scheurer’s Green’ which has been published in the anthology ‘Evergreen’ by Bridge House Publishing. One writer said my cockney accent was better than Audrey Hepburn’s in ‘My Fair Lady’. I hope so but maybe next time I will come back with Audrey’s eyebrows. You can hear me here: http://www.janmoranneil.co.uk/media/flufferedit.mp3
I also attended Helen Moffett’s workshop in Noordoek on ‘Reading Your Poetry Aloud’. What a wonderful voice, Helen has. She’s a singer – would love to hear her sing!
I’m moving into narrating audio novels so watch this space.
So for a second bite of the blog apple which I missed posting when I was away I also read Joanne Wallace’s ‘You’d Look Better as a Ghost’ published by Serpent’s Tail and out in September. Jo started this wonderfully hilarious thriller at Creative Ink.
Laura Shepperson, a Cambridge MSt colleague has just published ‘The Heroines’ with Sphere. It’s a fascinating re-working of Phaedra’s story – a Greek tragedy with a ‘Me Too’ message.
And finally, to end on ‘lastness’, Wenyan Lu, another Cambridge MSt colleague is bringing out ‘The Funeral Cryer’ published by Atlantic Books in early May. Wenyan sent me the first few chapters some time ago and this story about a young woman in contemporary rural China has haunted me ever since. I can’t wait to read the whole book.

My Marlow Radio Monologue …

17/02/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

You can hear me reading my monologue ‘Scheurer’s Green’ – which Bridge House Publishing published in their anthology ‘Evergreen’ on Marlow FM 97.5 this coming Monday 20th February at approximately 11.15 am. It’s the tragic story of Matilda Scheurer, a hat fluffer in Victorian London. In my best received pronunciation, of course. Here is the link: Marlow FM 97.5 – Radioplayer
If you miss it, then here’s the link for catch up and it’s Good Morning Marlow. www.marlowfm.co.uk/listen-again/

Making Observations …

08/02/2023 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Making Observations …’ by Ms Paige Turner
As we all well know, a writer and performer’s job is to make observations of human nature and then reproduce and communicate them to a reading and viewing audience.
So when I saw a couple of dear school friends I had known since I was ten years old and one of them went to write something: not signing the bill as times have moved on with a swipe, I said, ‘I have never noticed you are left-handed.’
The other of our sweet three said, ‘Have you never noticed that, Jan?’
I said, ‘No. And for someone who is supposed to be a writer and performer, I am sadly lacking in observational qualities’.
And so it was, that when attending an online ‘Memory and Imagination …’ Master Class led by my two Cambridge supervisors: Sarah Burton and Jen Poster – sixty attendees no less – I heard the latter say, ‘Writers don’t observe more than other folk, they just use the observations they make’.
Maybe I didn’t need to use my friend’s left-handedness and maybe the universe will always give you the answer if you think hard enough.
When This is All Over …’ a pandemic anthology/Creative Ink


My novel ‘Shakespeare’s Clock’.