I was friends for many years with the writer Alan Plater and I often stayed at his house in London when I was working down there.
Alan was a brilliant teacher and advisor and gave me many tips about how to approach a blank page and then put words on to it.
He told me it was always the little observations you make and the small snippets of conversation you sometimes overhear that go to make a bigger picture.
He also told me that you don’t always have to have explosions, car chases and buildings catching fire to make an exciting story; you can hold an audience’s attention just by showing what people do and say as they go about their ordinary life.
I still think that the series he wrote called The Beiderbecke Affair is one of the glories of British television and of course not a lot happened in it.
Alan also wrote many of the early episodes of Z Cars, a series that hasn’t been seen for more than 40 years, but one that people of a certain age still talk about.
Alan once told me that a real-life policeman stopped him to say how much he liked Z Cars. Then the copper went on to say: “But it’s not all wrestling with criminals y’know, sometimes there are nights when nothing really happens and we sit at the back of our desk in the station twiddling our thumbs.”
Alan mused on this and then wrote one of the most famous episodes of the programme: it was called The Quiet Night and featured a desk sergeant on the night shift who spent the whole of the episode tapping his fingers, eating cheese and pickle sandwiches and checking on locks.
I’m telling this story because when I sat down to write this week’s column and I was thinking about what I’d like to say, I drew a blank.
Normally I write about something I’ve seen or heard; sometimes it’s a phrase someone has said that sets me of; sometimes I’ve heard gossip on the radio or read a snippet in one of the papers. Failing that I’ll go to somewhere in my memory and dredge out a half-forgotten thought.
None of that has happened this week – in fact I’ve gone a whole week without anybody putting my back up, getting my goat or making me giggle.
It’s been a quiet week in the Clayton household – unless I count setting the smoke alarm off when I had the grill on to high for a couple of rashers of fatty bacon, my computer doing things I don’t want it to do and my dog waking me up before six every morning because he’s barking at a blackbird that’s trying to make a nest in a bush in my yard.
I haven’t been slacking, though, because I’ve done a lot of writing this week.
The notes I’m making to tell the history of the Castleford Women’s Centre are coming together nicely and a new book of my own that I’m working on is just about done. I handed it to my publisher this week for approva and if all goes well, it will be out later this year.
I’ve also been travelling to a power station near Immingham in Lincolnshire with the artist Harry Malkin. The power station is on what they call an “outage”, which means it’s shut down for repair and maintenance, and we’re doing a “creative project” to record what happens.
From that I learned this week that the average age of a mechanical fitter on power stations is 57. I also learned this week that the price of a pint of beer hasn’t really gone down by one penny, even though the chancellor said it would do. I’ve had about a dozen pints since the budget and not one of them cost me less than they did before the announcement.
So, in a week when gay couples were given the same right to marriage that straight people have had for hundreds of years; and satellite photos of things floating in the southern Indian Ocean have led news programmes to troop out experts on ocean currents; and plane crashes and some people in Yorkshire are gearing up to watch a French bicycle race flash past their front door, not too much happened in my little corner of the world.
Perhaps I need, as they say a lot these days, to get out a bit more.