9 November 2010
Bob Williams-Findlay has contributed to the disability arts and cultural movement in the UK for many years as a poet, playwright and stand up comedian.
He contributed to Disability Arts in London Magazine and Hygiene (published by the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham)
He is currently a member of New City Playwights based in Wolverhampton and had a short play performed as part of the City’s Arts Gallery Pop Art opening.
Through NCP Bob has had several plays rehearsed read in venues across the City. A five minute sports play written by Bob was broadcast on radio West Midlands in 2006.
Nothing to Fear
A frightened man at first stands like a statue motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observation.
Two men in dark suits sit at identical desks with a large shredder between them. In unison they pick a piece of paper from a left hand pile, read it before placing on a right hand pile. From time to time they shred a piece of paper after reading it. The sound of a squeaking door opening is heard.
One: Are you coming in or not?
Two: We don’t bite, we certainly aren’t going to eat you…
Both: We’re vegetarians! (burst out laughing hysterically)
One: That went down like a lead balloon.
Two: It was supposed to relax you –
One: Make you feel at ease. People are usually nervous when they come and see us; we can appreciate that, but…
Both men come around from behind their desks and stand together.
One: Listen, there’s nothing to worry about.
Two: All we want is a little chat –
One: An opportunity to put the record straight.
Two: Inform you of your rights and responsibilities.
One: Help you understand that it’s not just about what your society can do for you; it’s also about how your society might benefit from you!
Two: Also about?
One: Well, mainly about ….
Both take a place forward
Both: Can you measure up to be part of the Big Society?
One: You want to stand on your own two feet, right?
Two: Okay, that might be slightly difficult in your case, but you can see where we’re coming from?
One: You do want to be part of the big idea, don’t you?
The men look at each other puzzled
Two: Right, we may be in need of a little context here. Do you remember what Margaret Hilda Thatcher said in October 1987?
One: Never going to remember that far back. Think you ought to give them a helping hand. That’s why we’re here after all.
Two stands upright and clears his throat
Two: “I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society.”
One: She was right, of course; almost extreme right, one might say.
Two: Now, now, the Honourable woman was totally misunderstood –
One: Don’t tell me; she was misquoted and taken to the cleaners by the Trotskyites who ran the BBC and Church of England at the time. Heard it all before.
Two looks at One and puts his hands on his hips before looking down and shaking his head
Two: No, they simply didn’t appreciate the point she was making; listen carefully… “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”
One: Of course you couldn’t get away with saying, ‘there is no such thing as society’ these days –
Two: Why not?
One: You’d be branded a ‘nutter’ –
Two put his hand over his mouth
Two: Surely it’s more PC to say they’re unfit to work –
One: More likely to fall over themselves in a rush to stick them on benefits for life! Check, matey!
One bows and does a big hop
One: And now ladies and gentlemen, you know why we’re in the mess we’re in. UK Limited, very limited, became a take, take society; living well beyond our means. The welfare state got out of control; people had completely forgotten what old Maggie had said.
Two: Are you for real?
One: I was last time I checked. Look, all I’m saying –
Two: I know what your saying, but it’s not true is it?
One: Not true?
Two: Not quite everyone had forgotten; David hadn’t forgotten.
One: Silly me, of course you’re right. Not only hadn’t David forgotten; he had a plan, a very cunning plan…
Two: Rather than say, ‘there is no such thing as society’ –
One: He turned everything upside down! Just like Orwell’s l984.
Two: Instead of denying society, he started on about the Big Society.
One: Let’s hear it for the Big Society. Forget about the global crisis, the spending review and all the nasty cuts –
Two: Sorry for interrupting, but don’t you think ‘cuts’ is a very blunt word?
One: (laughs) Oh, very sharp! Suppose you think talking about cuts and job losses is too 1970s?
Two: I like where your coming from; lets focus on opportunity, recognising we’re all in this together…
One: Up to our necks.
Two: I can see the vision. Individuals, men and women, the sick and the able, coming together to solve their own problems in a land fit for heroes.
One: So let me get this straight; society exists but soon the welfare state –
Two: Shall we change the subject?
One: Don’t you want to talk about how the Third Sector will replace Town Halls or how, ‘charity begins at home’ will be given a fresh makeover?
Two goes over to One and examines him carefully
Two: (pause) Oh, I see. Had me going there. Taking the Michael out of the fretting good-doers who hark on about Victorian values, workhouses and the like.
One: And what about you? Are you with us or not?
Two: Yes, are you willing to be part of the Big Society? Today you’ve an opportunity to help us help you make that all important step.
One: There’s no gain without pain as they say. Think of all the benefits of coming off benefits. Becoming part of your community, rather than have your community watching you from behind twitching curtains.
Two: Can’t you feel the weight lifting off your shoulders already? I’ll tell you what; don’t think of this as a test –
One: Test? Did you say test?
One starts running around the room before going back to his desk and picking up a big book and hitting himself over the head with it.
Two: Why do you keep forgetting the purpose of these meetings?
One: As soon as we start talking about the BIG society, everything else pales into insignificance.
Two: Of course it does; that’s the idea of it! But it’s important to remember, our job is to help individuals to become part of the solution –
One: Rather than being part of the problem! I do remember now.
One starts to do exercises on the spot
Two: And to be part of the Big Society people must make a contribution. Even those too sick to work can help by becoming volunteers.
One: You mean a kind of, “Pick up thy bed and walk …”
Two goes over to One and knees him
Two: There’s no need to overdo it. Right, now, where were we? Ah, yes, you’ve been invited to this meeting –
One: (painful voice) Invited to this test –
Two: Okay, you’ve been invited to this test to make sure you’re getting what your entitled to.
One: And if you aren’t entitled to it, we’re supposed to make sure you get what’s coming to you. (Pause before laughing) Okay, only joking!
Two: (slapping One on the back) Oh, you are naughty! Should’ve been a clown, not a doctor.
One: Told you we were doctors, didn’t they? We don’t wear white coats or anything like that. Don’t want to put people off. Some people are scared of doctors, can you believe that?
Two: How absurd! Listen, you can trust me, I’m a doctor.
One: Just don’t mention, Joseph Mengele or Jack Kevokian –
Two slaps One across the head this time
Two: Enough of the comedy; let’s get down to the serious business. We’ve read your file –
One: That’s what we were shredding when you sneaked in.
Two: (raising his hand) Enough! Where were we? Ah, yes, the Government wants everyone on benefits to be re- assessed as their circumstances may have changed.
One: (tapping the side of his nose) Someone may have discovered a cure or moved the goalposts. No, sorry, that was just a Freudian slip. Hey, did you like that one?
Two: (turning to One) What are you doing? Why are you trying to discredit our work?
One: (moving towards Two) I’m doing no such thing. On the contrary, I’m trying to show how impartial we are. I want to reassure you; we’re not judgemental, prejudiced and don’t make our minds up even before the person has walked, stumbled even, through that door.
Two: I should hope no such thoughts has even crossed –
One: You’ve read all the press stories, right? The crackdown on benefit cheats; those pretending to be sick and disabled? God, how sick is that? Personally, I hate people like that; do you know why?
Two: Is this really necessary?
One: Yes, it’s important to be honest about what’s going on here. I hate those people because they’re stealing; stealing from really deserving people like… yourself.
Two: (goes over and shouts down One’s ear) We … haven’t … done … the … test … yet!
One: I know, I know. Just take a look, the test’s going to be a formality, right? (Moving forward) When you’ve been in this job as long as we have –
Two: Six months, that’s all, six months –
One: You can spot a genuine case a mile off. No worries. Disability assessment medicine isn’t a vocation, it’s an art.
Two: My colleague takes his work very seriously; too seriously at times.
One: Oh, you’ve changed your tune; a minute ago I was just a clown. But he’s right, I do take my work seriously. I do it with conviction and with a passion. And what thanks do I get?
Two: Here we go again!
One: Sack after sack of hate mail. It’s got so bad my postie’s on sick leave and claiming ESA.
Two: We’re not here to discuss our problems. Someone had to put a stop to the fraud and the endless excuses –
One: There wasn’t that much fraud, to be honest; plenty of excuses, I’ll grant you that. Can’t build a Big Society on a bucket load of excuses, can we?
Two: Not much – people trying to pull wool over their doctors’ eyes, swinging the lead; talk about a culture of deceit!
One: He has a point. We’ve seen some claiming stress related illnesses. Don’t know about pulling wool over their docs’ eyes, wanted their docs to wrap them up in it.
Two: Stress, what a laugh. Wasn’t till we said we’d cut their benefits –
One: Told them their years of idleness had de-skilled them –
Two: Did they really start to understand what stress really was.
One: Please don’t think we’re heartless; sometimes you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.
Two: Sometimes the kill or cure method is the only one that seems to work. In a short space of time we’ve helped thousands to get back on their feet and into employment.
One: We’ve now have a better success rate than Lourdes. Our colleagues envy us; run a book on the number of failures we’d score. They’re totally out of pocket!
Two: (goes over to One and places his hand on his shoulder) What about the certain banker they thought they had?
Both men burst out laughing
One: Unbelieveable that was. One woman died of fright in our waiting room. Undeterred, we still managed to find her a job.
Two: Had her body embalmed. Now she’s working as a door- stop in a stately home. No excuses acceptable here.
One: If that Professor Hawkins can work to cram the entire Universe inside his head; the sky’s the limit, isn’t it?
Two: So you see, you’ve nothing to fear.
One: You’re safe in our hands. Just need you to answer a few questions, let us prod and poke you a couple of times –
Two: Provided you scream in all the right places; you’ll be fine.
One: It’s the end of the month –
Two: We’ve reached our quota –
One: All bets off.
Two: There are, however, one or two slight concerns we have about your claim.
One: You walked here from our waiting room, right? But you’ve no walking aids with you.
Two: We didn’t hear you fall over, cry out in pain. And you managed to find your way here. There no obvious signs of sweat or urine.
One: Ooops. Not looking good …
Two starts sniffing the air around the room.
Two: Ah, that’s an interesting development. Could be simply fear, of course …
One: Please don’t see us as the bad guys, we’re only doing our job. We know how difficult it is these days to find employment.
Both: (moving forward and bending) Why do you think, we’re here?