When you’re remembering things from your life, which are the memories that jump out to you? Are they times of sadness, grief, stress, worry? Or are they happy times – childhood trips to the beach, your first (legal) night out, your wedding day?
Memories are funny things, aren’t they? The mere act of thinking about something from your past can alter your entire mood today – remembering that stupid thing you said in a meeting five years ago can still make you want to curl into a ball right now, and many of us can recall word for word a text that we read and reread over and over again just because it made us smile so much. Even at 26 my little brain is filled with memories, brilliant and horrendous, and every single one is valuable, whether it’s an event that has taught me a lesson or just something that makes me laugh uncontrollably on the bus on my own.
But what will I remember about my life when I’m older? Will I still be regretting the blazing arguments or cackling over my ridiculous school antics, or will they be shunted out of my mind to make way for weirder and more wonderful memories? Will there be hygge in my memories as there is now, or will it all be different?
I want to tell you today about John Bull. John Bull isn’t a person – not this John Bull, anyway. This John Bull is the titular character in a new short independent film about memory, ageing and mortality being shot this summer in London. Phil Davis, of Vera Drake, Sherlock, Whitechapel and Bleak House, will play John, an ageing man nearing the end of his life who decides to explore his memories and life experiences with a young man (played by Joshua James) in a London pub. But with years separating him from these experiences, how can we be sure that his weird and wonderful tales happened exactly as he describes them?
This film is written and directed by a colleague from an old job, Frank McCabe (on the right in the picture above), who wrote John Bull as a screen adaptation of his stage play, Ten Men, which ran in London in 2013. What’s really interesting about John Bull is that the dialogue is written in verse, so it’s really not your standard film. I remember thinking it was really cool when Frank was selected as one of the BBC’s WritersRoom 10 in 2014 (designed to support emerging theatre writers), and with his RADA background and numerous theatre credits, I reckon this will be a great film. But professional credits aside, I’ve always liked that Frank is so sharp, smart and funny, and that more than anything else makes me really excited about this film. Frank will be joined by cinematographer and co-producer Matt Beecroft, who has an extensive career in film and advertising, digital colourist Jodie Davidson, photographer Ali Tollervey and composer William Yates, who works under the alias ‘memotone’, and I can’t wait to see the finished product.
The reason I’m telling you about this is because I know that the concepts of memory and ageing will resonate with every single person reading this. Reading about the film, I thought of my grandma, Jean, who lived with Alzheimer’s for many years. It started off with her just becoming a bit forgetful – buying the same things twice, forgetting where she’d put her reading glasses, having names slip out of her mind. Over the years, the dementia took hold, and by the end of her life, she didn’t really recognise any of us. We’d take her out to her favourite places, but there was no real recognition there anymore. Maybe she knew our faces from somewhere, but she couldn’t quite place us in her memories anymore. I wondered if she remembered her husband, my grandad, Keith, who died before I was born. In those last days, did she remember anything accurately anymore? Was it all scrambled? Were there flickers of remembering? It’s impossible for us to know, but it was sad and scary watching someone’s memories ebb before our eyes.
Thankfully not all of us will end up losing all of our memories, but the further we get from the big events in our lives, or even the little ones, the harder it gets to be sure exactly how things happened. How much did I really pay for that cheap flight to Friedrichshafen? Did I really deserve those harsh words in that argument when we broke up? Who else was there in the rockery on that Saturday when it rained and rained? It’s so hard to be absolutely sure of my memories even now, so who knows what will happen if I get to 70, 80, 90… we all know John Bulls, and we will all become John Bulls.
“Now here’s one for you, what d’you make of this one then?
The sixties. I’m a nipper. Ten, eleven, twelve.
We had a feller living further down our street.
The house by the allotments. Archie. Scottish bloke…”
But despite all that, despite the fact that we can’t hold onto crystal clear memories forever and ever, it’s still vitally important that we do what we can to create beautiful, funny, amazing memories that we’ll remember in one way or another in years to come. The more I thought about the story of John Bull, the more I thought about how many of my own memories have hygge playing a central role. Baking brownies in a friend’s kitchen, sleepovers in everyone’s bedrooms growing up, driving around the Kent countryside, the Christmas my uncle flicked a lump of meringue into my mum’s hair, my then-baby cousin’s joy as we watched the fireworks out of the window on his first Bonfire Night. For every sad memory, there are another five that are poignant and lovely and, yes, hyggeligt.
I want my life to be filled with memories like John’s. Say yes more, take the risk, break out of your comfort zone. Take the photos, record the videos, save the voicemails – they might not mean much now, but maybe one day they will be the most precious things you have.
So, back to John Bull. Frank and the team will shoot the film in London this summer, but they need a bit of help to make it all happen. They need to raise £18,750 to ensure they can realise their vision, and they’ve set up an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise the funds. Every contribution means the world to Frank and the team, who want to tell the story of John Bull, and in turn, tell the story of all of us and our relationship with memory and getting older, but even if you’re not in a position to give money, if this film resonates with you, you can help by doing something as simple as sharing the campaign on social media or sending it to a friend. In addition, 50% of everything raised over the £18,750 target will be evenly split between MIND and end-of-life charity National Council for Palliative Care, with the remaining 50% going towards ensuring the film is finished to the highest possible production standard.
Maybe one day your memories will be told to a young man in a pub. What are you doing to fill your life with weird, wonderful, beautiful experiences that will one day become memories? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget that if you’d like to support Frank and John Bull, you can find out more and contribute here.