Rutherfurd on Rutherfurd

The Old People's Home

Q. So you started to write a play.

A. I was a devotee of the London theatre which in those years - this was the middle of the seventies - was going through a very exiting and creative period. All kinds of writers, were providing extraordinary work - from Shaffer's Equus, to Edward Bond, Howard Brenton, Simon Gray, Pam Gems; the Roundhouse was operating at Chalk Farm; Caryl Churchill, David Hare and the Joint Stock Company were at the Royal Court; and Steven Berkoff brought out The Fall Of The House Of Usher, Metamorphosis, and East. It was just a wonderful time and I saw almost everything. I'd had this idea for years to write a play about an old people's home. So I went to work, three days a week, in a local authority home in the London Borough of Camden, and the other days of the week I made notes and wrote.

Q. What were the conditions like?

A. The council really did their best, but it wasn't easy for them. You could smell the place fifty paces from the door. I was a care assistant. That meant you did most things, from spending time with the patients, making their beds, dressing, bathing and toileting them, and doing the things that have to be done to bodies when people die.

Q. Did they know you were writing a play?

A. They had no idea.

Q. What sort of people were the residents?

A. A surprising variety. Some were senile, or burned-out schitzophrenics, some were violent, others lovely. It was a dumping ground really, for people waiting to die. Some strange things happened.

Q. How long did you work there?

A. About fifteen months.

Q. Was it an important experience for you personally?

A. The most formative experience of my life. I learned what little I know about human nature there.

Q. What did it teach you?

A. Realism. Compassion.

Q. You wrote your play. Was it performed?

A. Nearly. BBC Radio took quite an interest, but then they passed. About a year later they broadcast a play by someone else which had some striking resemblances, unmistakable really, to my play. Another useful lesson for a budding writer.

Q. Did you hold a grudge?

A. No. The BBC is one of the great civilizing institutions of the world. These things happen.

Q. You wrote more plays.

A. About ten, as far as I recall, for stage or radio.

Q. Did you sell any?

A. An agent who specialised in drama read them, but though she was encouraging, she never managed to place any of them. Finally I ran out of money. It didn't seem I had the talent to be a writer.

Did You Know?
In Manhattan in the early to mid nineteenth century, scores of pigs roamed the streets – about 20,000 of them at peak population in the early 1820’s, a ratio of roughly one pig to every five humans ! Many of them belonged to families. The city was quickly growing in the nineteenth century – in population and wealth disparity. Despite rapid urbanization, non-wealthy New Yorkers continued raising hogs as a means of surviving. A family could always slaughter one of its pigs to feed itself, or sell one of them since pork was a staple of the American diet. Why pigs? Other animals weren’t quite so compatible with urban life. People could let their pigs wander the streets, rummage through trash for the piles of spoiled food that was left out on the street during the day, and count on them to return home in the evening !

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