Black History Month @ WoW

The global Black Lives Matter protests that characterised our summer were truly inspirational. Black communities and anti-racists across the globe are demanding change. Writing on the Wall are proud to present our programme for Black History month featuring some of the most inspirational local, national and international black artists, creatives and activists, featuring Man Booker Prize winner, Jamaican writer Marlon James and Berkeley Professor Stephen Small; Afrofuturist author and filmmaker Ytasha Womack returns from Chicago to take up residency on the Writing Bloc, and We are also delighted to welcome George DomanToni HickmanKeith Jones and Leroy Moore, US Krip Hop activists and stars of the Netflix documentary Phoenix Rising.

Throwing themselves into the debate around the Decolonization of Curriculums, are Dr Leona Vaughnwhile the 1919 Walking Tours, Mandela 8, the L8 Archive and The Windrush Music projects reveal hidden histories. Sophie Williams will be discussing her new book, How To Be An Anti-Racist Ally, and we see the return of the multi-talented Black Girl Lit Club. Arena Films dig into their archive to present Linton Kwesi Johnson’s A Caribbean Journey, with contemporary discussions and poetic responses from Karen McCarthy-WoolfAshleigh NugentLevi Tafari,  Olive SeniorColin GrantDanielle Boodoo-Fortuné and Vladimir Lucien.

Bringing the struggle home, Kim Johnson MP, Liverpool’s first black MP, and Tracey Gore, the newly appointed chair of the city’s Race Task force, will consider how we level the playing field in Liverpool, while films from WoW’s Time to Breathe writing project portray just how pressing that it is.  Throw children’s Story Time into the mix and there’s something for everyone. We look forward to seeing you throughout October.

As the President of the ‘free world’ dog whistles to white supremacists and in the UK  black people are increasingly targeted by police and far right thugs line our shores to beat back those fleeing war and famine, the most pressing questions now for the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racists everywhere is ‘What’s Next?’  Throughout  WoW’s Black History Month we will explore this question, and invite you to celebrate great writing and performance and engage in discussion and debate on these vital issues.


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Just in Time

Tom Hall

A sketch for three players
An office at the Ministry.  DIGBY, the SECRETARY OF STATE’s aide, is sitting behind a desk, working at an open laptop.  DIGBY is addressed as Ms. DIGBY in the presence of others, and privately, as ‘Eleanor’.  She clicks onto a website, and a male, American, announcer’s voice comes through.

ANNOUNCER Welcome to Free Frank Radio! It’s a quarter to three, and we’re all in the place – playing Frank – all Frank, and only Frank; Ol’ Blue Eyes, all the time.
(Music: Frank Sinatra and big band performing Just in Time.)

SINATRA’S VOICE “No more doubt or fear, I’ve found my way –
(The SECRETARY OF STATE enters – male, public school, Oxbridge; the usual sort)


DIGBY (lowering volume) Secretary of State, I’m sorry, I’ll switch it off-

SECRETARY OF STATE (jovial) No, no! Leave it on, Eleanor.  Brightens up the place.

DIGBY    Dr. Farrell is waiting outside.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Oh. Does he have an appointment?  Is he scheduled?

DIGBY    No sir.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Oh, alright. 
(He gestures, and DIGBY switches off the music)

SECRETARY OF STATE    What does he want?
DIGBY He didn’t say, only that it was urgent.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Everything’s urgent to those people.

DIGBY  Quite.
(As the SECRETARY OF STATE hums, ‘Just in Time’, DIGBY opens the door.)

DIGBY   Dr. Farrell, the Secretary of State will see you now.
(Farrell enters- a tired-looking man in a lab coat.)

SECRETARY OF STATE    Good to see you, Farrell.  How are the family?

FARRELL    Good morning, Secretary of State.  They’re in quarantine.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Oh.  Right.  Needs must, eh? I’d invite you into my office, but we’re frightfully busy at the moment, as I’m sure you can appreciate.
(Farrell glances around at the pall of activity.)

SECRETARY OF STATE    Now then.  What have you got for us today?

FARRELL    Well, sir, I’ve worked it out here-
(He produces a crumpled serviette.)


FARRELL    Yes, I’d like you to have a look.
(He spreads the serviette on the desktop.)

SECRETARY OF STATE (Looking down; slowly-)  I see.  Mnh-hmn.  (pause) What does it all mean?
(Farrell takes out his phone)

FARRELL    Well, the Ministry released this data - in your tweet, here …

SECRETARY OF STATE    I can’t read rich detail on a small screen.  Ms. Digby …
(DIGBY displays the data on the laptop)

FARRELL   There- see- the rate of increase- charts and graphs.

SECRETARY OF STATE   Yes. Who chose the colours? (With a reserved smile DIGBY takes personal credit) Well done, Ms Digby.

FARRELL    But the thing is, reports coming in show there are far more cases of contagion than are included in this announcement.

DIGBY    How do you know that?

FARRELL (ignoring the interruption) And the projections you have here don’t come close to reflecting the levels we expect in the weeks ahead, or the resources that will be needed.  We’ve seen this very clearly.

SECRETARY OF STATE    We?  Who’s “we”?

FARRELL    The Scientific Advisory Department.  You appointed us.

DIGBY    And you’re saying there’s a discrepancy between the government’s figures and this-
(DIGBY holds up the crumpled serviette with a show of distaste)

FARRELL    Those are my calculations.

DIGBY    On the back of a serviette. 

FARRELL    I thought you should be told at once, Secretary of State.

SECRETARY OF STATE (points again at a detail on the serviette) Look, Doctor, you seem to be suggesting- your little graph here- I mean, that’s not blueberry jam, is it?

FARRELL    No, it’s not.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Well, the arrow is pointing to an almost vertical position.

FARRELL   Yes, sir.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Are you telling me that transmission of the virus is out of control?

FARRELL    Very nearly, sir.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Has the Prime Minister said that?

FARRELL     No. So, there’s a risk that official data could be construed as dangerously misleading.

SECRETARY OF STATE I see. Let me explain something to you, Doctor.  Government, such as it is, is largely a matter of scheduling.  We plan according to immediate needs, and our watchword – our guiding principle – is flexibility.  We’re not locked into some long-term policy, so, when circumstances change, we’re nimble – ready to respond.  To that end, it’s our job, all of us, to keep supplies, services, what have you, moving along at a proper rate – going forward, as it were – with the aim of supplementing and maintaining existing levels. 

FARRELL   But the question is one of capacity-

SECRETARY OF STATE    There is no question of a failure of capacity.  How could there be, when we’ve been operating for years with the greatest success at a capacity of 98%?  You talk as though we’re depleted – empty – when the truth is there’s no slack whatever.  We’re absolutely full up to the brim. Now, returning to my point- everything has to move along according to schedule.  Not too slow – or you run out of material.  But crucially, not too fast, lest we create bottlenecks, oversupply, useless accumulation, all of which amount to a drain on the taxpayer.  So, the goal is to keep it all ticking over in a well-ordered fashion. 

FARRELL   In an emergency?

SECRETARY OF STATE    There’s no fundamental difference.  We’ve got both hands on this thing and we’ve learned how to operate the controls.

FARRELL (incredulous) Of a pandemic.

SECRETARY OF STATE (becoming exasperated) Oh, for heaven’s sake, call it what you will. The point is, to manage the affair with a minimum of disruption, waste and expenditure.  We’ve already got the disruption.  So, let’s concentrate on the other two.  Good God, look what it’s doing to the economy- isn’t that bad enough?  The Ministry’s figures, which you claim are inadequate, out of date - I’m not sure I understand why – illustrate explicitly the urgent need to balance accounts, to forge a correspondence between infection rates and our beloved national health system’s ability to react.  And that, I assure you, is what we are labouring night and day to produce. 

FARRELL    Well, it seems to me, and the advisory group, that there’s been little or no planning.
(DIGBY and the SECRETARY OF STATE share a hearty laugh.)

SECRETARY OF STATE    My dear fellow, you couldn’t be more wrong.  Everything is planned down to the minutest detail.  Nothing has been left to chance.   You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “So-and-So made the trains run on time.”

FARRELL (confused) Ye-es.

SECRETARY OF STATE    The same principle applies.  These figures- our figures- form an integral component of our overall strategy, in conjunction with our friends-

FARRELL    Our friends?

SECRETARY OF STATE    Turn on the television, man- pick up a newspaper-

FARRELL I’ve been preoccupied.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Open yourself up to the world, Doctor.  We are in the process of harnessing the power of this thing-

FARRELL    The pandemic?

SECRETARY OF STATE (sighs) That word again.

DIGBY    What the Secretary of State is saying, with permission, Secretary of State, is that we are devoting all our efforts to making this virus- and it is a virus, no one here disputes that- conform to the same strictures we in the Department apply to any untoward event.  We are bringing it under control.  Our figures demonstrate as much.  On the one hand, you have brought us this cocktail napkin bearing an enigmatic set of numerals, one could almost call them “runes”, scrawled in biro.  Whereas the Department has put forward a clear, well-constructed, and - if I may say – visually attractive, collection of graphs, pie charts and reassuring forecasts which the public can digest at a glance.

FARRELL    There are catastrophic shortages in supplies of ventilators, testing kits, surgical gowns.  Beds.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Those are not shortages.  They’re merely temporary imbalances.  Our job is to bring them into agreement with the general picture.  And let’s not forget all the people who’ve recovered - possibly even better now than they were before this business started- thanks to the tremendous contribution of our indefatigable army of dedicated health care workers.  Is there any reference to them in your calculations? 

FARRELL    Not directly, no.

SECRETARY OF STATE    I suspected as much.  As I pointed out to you, the NHS under our stewardship has operated flat out at 98% capacity for a decade.  That’s a proven system with no fat – lean, agile, alert, responsive to the slightest fluctuation.

FARRELL    But not to an emergency. Now, if I may return to my point, none of the figures in today’s press release-

SECRETARY OF STATE    Part of the comprehensive plan.  All things arrive, and all things depart, precisely on time.  Including today’s announcement.

DIGBY    Thank you, Secretary of State.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Not at all, Ms. Digby – well deserved.  (to Farrell-) But if we were to release your figures- all of this barrelling down on us- (waves the serviette) it would throw the entire project out of kilter.
FARRELL    Project, sir?

SECRETARY OF STATE    Imagine- more trains arriving than a station could accommodate.  Or, all of them running ahead of schedule.  Or behind.  Chaos!  This government is managing this unfortunate sequence of events with a view to reconciling levels of contagion with available levels of treatment.  Rather like a 21st century matchmaker.  So, when people say we haven’t planned for all of this-

DIGBY    They couldn’t be more wrong. 

FARRELL (defeated at last, dazed) Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything more I can say.

SECRETARY OF STATE (brightly) Capital!  I’m glad you feel that way.  You know, Dr. Farrell, we’re all counting on you.  No good lining up against one another.  And no tittle-tattle to the press.
FARRELL   I have a lot of work -
(The SECRETARY OF STATE smoothly snags the serviette from Farrell’s hand.)

SECRETARY OF STATE    We’ll just hang onto this.  Future reference.  Never can tell.  And please, take the afternoon off.  I insist.  Must look after our experts.  Can’t afford to lose you.

FARRELL (numb) Thank you, Secretary of State. 

SECRETARY OF STATE (cheerily) Good- bye.

DIGBY    Goodbye, Doctor.
(Farrell leaves, limp and crestfallen)

SECRETARY OF STATE (pause) Farrell. What sort of name is that?

DIGBY    Irish, sir.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Aah. (longer pause, brightly) I say, Eleanor, do put that music on again, the station you had. 

DIGBY    Of course, sir. 
(The room is filled with the crass opening strains of New York, New York)

SECRETARY OF STATE    Oh. What happened to the other song?

DIGBY    It’s on rotation. Don’t worry, sir, it will come around again.

SECRETARY OF STATE    Oh.  Good.  I rather enjoyed that tune. (Croons, ‘No more doubt or fear, I’ve found my way …’)

SINATRA’S VOICE   Start spreadin’ the news …

Tom Hall lives in Dublin. He is a playwright, whose Racoon has toured internationally, and was seen at Liverpool Irish Festival (2008).


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