One Million Tiny Plays About Britain – taking up the idea

We went to see Craig Taylor’s One Million Tiny Plays About Britain.  The programme told us that the play comprises ‘miniature insights into other people’s lives revealing the triumphs, disasters, horrors and joys, familiar to us all.   A reviewer described it as ‘a jumble of micro-playlets – some just a few seconds long’.

It reminded me of the snippets of conversation I hear on buses, or in the supermarkets – where you get a couple of sentences, but not the context.  I often think I’d like to record them, to weave into a story or novel, but they’ve gone in a moment and I can never remember them properly, anyway I’m not a novelist. 

Last week for over 30 minutes, on the train I listened to one half of a phone conversation between a the passenger who was, I learned, working on a construction project, and someone else.  On my side I heard all the things that were going on, ‘Honestly, you couldn’t make it up’, he said at a couple of points as he catalogued the mishaps on the project, the misreadings of the technical drawings, and how hopeless the architects were.  I listened, transfixed, even though I was only getting half the story. It trumped the novel I was trying to read, but gave up on, as he endlessly talked.  

As I as getting off, I said to him how much I’d enjoyed listening to him as I have an architect friend who told similar stories but from the architect’s perspective. It was then that the passenger told me he was the quality assurance manager.  The poor fellow was rather taken aback, I think.  and said he hoped he hadn’t spilled the beans too much.   The whole conversation could have been a playlet (though not a micro one).

Around the end of August, I started to review each day.  (See my blog Journals, diaries, and other notebooks).  I can’t remember why now – it was probably triggered by something I’d read, which said reviewing each day was a good thing to do.  I thought I’d give it a go.  It turns out that I find it fun and useful and, in a sense, it records the million tiny plays I’ve acted in that day. 

The daily review is only a page and I write it answering six questions:  What have I achieved today?  What have I wasted time on today? What have I learned today?  What have I overlooked today? What have I collected today to be acted on?  What are tomorrow’s actions?

The achievements question records a variety of stuff. One day it was finding the car in an enormous car park that was laid out across several fields (without wandering around for hours), finishing a book, avoiding an argument about the route we were driving centred on whether to believe GPS or paper map or beloved’s handwritten instructions – which contradict the GPS he is intent now on thinking is correct?   

On another day, I recorded, as an achievement, not getting impatient with a child’s refusal to put on shoes and having two lovely walks with two different friends.   But I also log more practical things as achievements e.g. making a doctor’s appointment.  I see I have a broad definition of ‘achievements’.  I wonder what achievements a micro-playlet writer would home in on?

Looking back over the six weeks or so I find I waste a lot of time on looking for things that I’ve misplaced somewhere.  But I waste time on other things too.   One entry under the question ‘what have I wasted time on today?’ reads ‘Trying to find out how to collapse the buggy, (one I hadn’t used before), looking for string ball,  cruising through emails deciding which to answer (I answered none!), mulling over G’s bleak pessimism.’  I feel I waste a fair bit of time waiting for public transport, but then I use it chatting with the children or reading a book or mag.  So my definition of ‘wasted time’ slips a bit.   On another occasion, I wonder if taking a bus and walking instead of waiting 15 mins for the train is wasted time, as the journey was much slower than waiting the 15 mins, or is it a good use of time because I got some exercise and tested out a new bus route? 

In a playwright’s hands, I wonder if any of the wasting time entries would convert into some witty script?

Every day I learn something, so it’s easy to answer the ‘what have I learned today question?’ Programming my new Fitbit was a learning challenge, while finding a quicker route to the gym gets me there on time.

Last week I learned a lot from Lynne Ingram’s webinar about honey adulteration which is a massive industry and one that is hard to intervene on.  However, a new honey petition calls on the Government to change the Honey labelling rules so consumers can easily recognise all countries of origin of the honey contained in a jar sold here in the UK.  (Please sign it).  

Another day last week, my grand-daughter was thrilled to be able to teach me the song “Jellyfish Jones has got no bones”, which we then sang all afternoon.  Now I’m going to return the favour by teaching her the song ‘my flea has dogs’ I can just see some tiny plays around some of these day-to-day learnings.

Sadly, the ‘what have I overlooked today?’ is actually a repetitive list of the things I procrastinate on, don’t want to tackle, or feel unenthusiastic about.   For days on end, the list remains the same so I just write ‘the same as yesterday’.   On occasion (rare), I reluctantly force myself into getting one of them off the list. I take some comfort from Oliver Burkeman’s advice ‘Decide in advance what to fail at’.  I think a micro-playlet on Burkeman’s idea of failing on a cyclical basis would reflect my approach.

Most days I collect something or other, during the course of the day, that has to be added to my ‘to do’ list.  Sometimes it’s more than ‘something or other’ and what I’ve collected that day becomes a long list, sometimes in cryptic code that I can’t decipher the following day – maybe that’s a subconscious attempt to not get it on the list.  A typical collection, from one day last week, reads: send a thank you note to J. Find the book I promised to lend to someone, update my laptop software, arrange to meet P, log bee inspection. A day’s collection could make a playlet.

Then, finally, tomorrow’s actions. Answering this question at the end of the day means that when I get up in the morning I have a rough idea of what I’m planning to do.  (Subject to derailment).  I can see in advance that having a Zoom business meeting + ‘amusing grandchild’ at the same time, could be challenging. In the event, there was a slight derailment which meant meeting the demand to sing Jellyfish Jones required remembering to keep Zoom audio on mute, whilst trying to follow the meeting flow.   Perhaps there’s room for a Zoom micro-playlet?

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