City Of Cranes

Some years ago, I wrote this short play. It was my first attempt at writing for the stage, and my only one. It was intended to be put on in a small fringe theatre in London, and last for around twenty minutes, as part of a season of shorts. It would be cheap to stage, and has a small cast, of only two (or three) people. Props are minimal, and it all takes place in one small room, sparsely furnished. As it turned out, it didn’t make the cut. I showed it to some family and friends. Some liked it, others thought it needed work. The most common criticism was that the main character was unsympathetic, and hard to like. That was very much the point though. The experiences in  his life that had made him turn out this way are explained to some extent. There is some swearing, and it is quite a long read. If you feel inclined to imagine this as a short play, and are wiling to invest your time in reading it, I would appreciate your thoughts. There is a little of me in the character, which is not uncommon, but it is mainly based on my experiences in the Ambulance Service, and being in countless situations like this one.  This was the working script.


Setting;  The living room of a 20th floor Council Flat in North London, Present Day.

Props ; Ironing Board, Iron, Window, Small Suitcase, 2 Armchairs or similar.

Transistor Radio, Photos in frames, Trousers, Shirt. Watch, Slippers, Dressing Gown, Clip-board.

Cast ;  White Male approx 60 Years old, born in 1947. His name is Derek Lee.

           Black male or female approx 30 years old, African origin. (Social Worker)

           Ambulance attendant, any sex or age. (Can be voice off stage)


Small, dingy flat, poorly decorated and furnished. A man about 60 years old is standing next to an ironing board, looking out of the only window. He is dressed in a faded dressing gown, under which he wears a vest, underpants, socks, and slippers. He has placed a small case on a chair nearby, and he is arranging a pair of trousers and shirt, ready for ironing. It is around three in the afternoon, the last week of November.

He constantly re-folds the trousers, all the time staring out of the window.

Sound of doorbell/knocker

Derek checks his watch, then folds the trousers again before carefully placing them on the ironing board. He wraps the dressing gown around him, tying the cord tightly, then goes to answer the door. A young person enters, smartly dressed, carrying a clipboard. They have a breezy demeanour.

SW ‘Hello Mr Lee. Can I call you Derek, or how do you like to be called?’

DL ‘Most people call me Del, call me what you like’

SW ‘Derek then. Did you remember I was coming this afternoon, did you get my letter?’

DL (Points to case and ironing) ‘Well I’m not packing for a cruise, am I? What’s your name then?’

SW ‘You can call me Adye’. Are you nearly ready then Derek? The Ambulance will be here soon’

DL ‘Why do I need an Ambulance? I’m not ill.’

SW ‘It just makes it easier, better than waiting for cabs’

DL ‘You better sit down. I’ve got to iron this stuff yet. Want a tea or something?’

SW ‘I’m OK thanks, I have this water. (Shows plastic bottle of mineral water, sits)

DL ‘I remember when water came out of taps. Never did us any harm either. Public Drinking Fountains in parks. Remember them? Course you don’t, you’re too young. Hot Summer day, playing out, nothing tasted better, cool fountain water. So cold it made your teeth hurt. Nothing more refreshing, except a Jubbly, or a Calypso, if you had thruppence on you. Don’t ‘spose you will know what they are either? Ice Poles? Mivvis? Nah, you haven’t got a clue, I might as well be talking Albanian. Anyway, we had good stuff then, and we didn’t need to waste money on water, that’s for bloody sure!’

SW ‘Shall we get on with the ironing, Time’s getting on’

DL ‘Shall WE get on with the ironing? Are you gonna do it then? No. It has to be done right. Don’t want tramlines, or double creases, do WE? Can’t have a shiny arse either. I used to use brown paper for that. Soap in the seams, keep them sharp. Folded them under the mattress at night. It’s the pressure see? Better than a Corby press, like you see in hotels. Gets you ready for the morning. Strides pressed, tie slipped off with knot intact, cuts down on creases. Quick sluice, and off you go, gives you ten minutes more kip.’

(Derek folds the trousers over his arm. He walks to the window and parts the net curtain so he can see out)

DL ‘Ever since I can remember, London has been a city of cranes. I’ve lived high up, and in basements. I’ve been to Crystal palace, Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, even up on that bloody useless Eye. Never seen a decent view once. Fucking cranes always spoil it. Always in the way of the best bits. They’re not even level. Big tall ones, some pointing one way, some another. Little stubby ones, cranes on lorries, cranes on docks, cranes on quaysides. I tell you, they’re everywhere! (Turns to face SW)

Ever see a crane go up? Bet you haven’t. Never met anyone that has. You go to bed one night, and they are all there the next morning. Never seen a crane taken down either. One day you’re staring at a 90 footer, next morning it’s gone. Think about it. You’ll realise I’m right. How does that happen then Adye? I tell you, it’s God’s Meccano.

Those drivers you know. They can’t come down once they start work. Take too long to climb down the ladders. Up in the morning, down at the end of work, all day in that cab. I expect they have to piss in a bottle or something. Don’t know how they manage a shit. What do they do after? Tip it over the side or carry it back down? I reckon they tip it out, don’t you? Not right is it? I mean, stuck up there all day, looking down at the world, shitting in a bucket and eating sandwiches. Not right.’

SW (Agitated) ‘Come on Derek. We have to get on. It’s nearly Time. Get packing now.’

DL ‘WE again! It’s not you being locked up is it? Carted off to the loony bin for nothing, for no good reason I can see.’

SW ‘It’s only for an assessment Derek. Only 72 hours, you will be home soon, all being well. Back here for Christmas, I’m sure.’

DL ‘Home, call this home? I’ve had homes, and believe me, this isn’t even close.’

(DL walks back to the window, stares out at the view)

‘Christmas… They light them up at Christmas, did you know? Lights all over the jibs, down the superstructure, each firm trying to better the other, adverts, or seasonal messages. That’s a new thing, that is, didn’t used to happen. American, I reckon, like most things now.’

SW ‘We need cranes though Derek, or nothing would be built. Your flat wouldn’t be here without cranes, and you would have nowhere to live’

DL ‘After the War, maybe. There was a lot of building needed then. All the bomb sites and whole areas flattened. But it never stops. More and more cranes, ‘til the whole sky is just one long crane. I’ve seen some bloody cranes in my time, I can tell you.’

(Derek sighs. He puts the trousers back on the ironing Board and sits on the vacant chair)

SW ‘Please get on with it Derek. We don’t really have time for this.’ (SW looks at clipboard and flips over the top sheet)

DL (sarcastic, menacing) ‘Oh you’ve got a clipboard. Makes you very important doesn’t it? Was a time when only the bosses had them. Ticked you off lists, marked you down on charts, cancelled your time, docked your pay. They clipped their keys and whistles to them, on a chrome chain. Tied their pencils to them with string, so they were never without something to scribble with. They held them up against their chests, to keep the rain off, or to stop you seeing what was on them. No normal person, no working man, ever had use or reason for a clipboard. Nowadays, they are ten a penny. Every tosser’s got one. Kids in supermarkets, stupid charity collectors in the street, survey women in shopping centres, AA men at motorway services. Shield of Ignorance I call it. They hold it like a shield, so we can’t see they’re ignorant. Don’t mean nothing now, clipboards.’

SW ‘Please don’t start getting angry Derek. You are supposed to be controlling that aren’t you? Remember, that’s how it came to this in the first place.’

DL ‘Oh, really? That’s not what I remember. I recall the doctor telling me I was acting strangely because I was talking to people in the street. I was having a conversation at a bus stop, what’s strange about that? The way I was brought up, it was polite to chat to people at bus stops. Everyone chatted, made small-talk, about the weather, or football.

What changed? You tell me. Was a time you could walk in a park. Watch the kids play, feed the ducks, look at babies in prams, and tell the mums how much they looked like them. Not any more. Now you’re a perv, a nonce. You get reported for being strange.

I can remember when grown-ups played with kids. “Give us a kick of the ball son”, they would say. We would ask them to help us in the park. “Ere missus, give us a push on the swing”, we would call out. If you grazed your knee, you went to any adult for help. They took you to the Parky’s hut, for Germolene and plasters. How did we lose that trust? And what has society lost with it, I ask you?’

SW ‘ But Derek, times have changed. Child abductions, increased access to pornography; more people preying on children. They have to be more careful, don’t you agree?’

DL ‘ That’s bollocks. There was just as much, if not more abuse in Victorian times. Most of your famous child crimes, The Moors Murders, Mary Bell, all happened when I was still young, at the time I’m talking about. Times didn’t change. Media hysteria made it all happen, made prisoners of children and adults alike, both afraid to go out, for different reasons. Now, I don’t go out. Can’t talk to anyone, can’t look at anyone. Kids stay in with their video games, never see the seasons, never graze their knees, never develop any social skills. And they wonder why it’s all gone to shit. I don’t wonder. I know why.’

SW ‘Well that’s as maybe Derek, and we still need to get you sorted and finish packing. Come on now, how about that shirt?’

(Derek returns to the Ironing Board, smooths out the shirt as if ready to begin)

DL ‘It will be dark soon, you’ll be able to see the lights on the cranes. Should have seen them on Bonfire Night, all silhouetted against the colours of the fireworks. My Dad used to do a good display when he was around. It was always cold and clear, sausages and hot potatoes, Sparklers, Catherine Wheels, Rockets. I looked forward to it all year, and it was always over too quick.’

SW ‘Is your Dad still alive Derek?’

DL ‘Fuck knows. He pissed off when I was about seven or eight. Never really got over the war you see. He came home in ’46. He had been in the Army of Occupation in Germany after VE Day, been away since 1941. The Desert, Italy, Normandy. He had a hard war. He had only been back a few times since he married Mum in 1940, didn’t really know each other. I was born nine months after he got back. He was never sure, you see. It was the Yanks. There was talk that Mum had put it about a bit during the War. With all the Yanks stationed in England, they were all at it. Lonely wives, and widows. Young, good-looking Yanks with money to burn. It’s understandable, I ‘spose. Dad never asked her about it. Just upped and went one day. Left for work, and never came home. Mum told me later, she reckoned he thought he wasn’t my Dad. Just did his head in. I used to quite like the idea that my real Dad was an American Pilot. I fancied his name was Hank, and he looked like Clark Gable. I half expected him to come back one day, and take me to live on his ranch in Texas. Mum didn’t hang about. She soon moved in another bloke. He was a meat porter in Smithfield. He didn’t like me much, so I learned to keep out of the way. In from school, tea, and bed with a book. In the holidays, I played out with my mates. Long hot summers, pavements burning; or freezing winters, snowball fights, and balaclava helmets. It was OK, didn’t know no different. At least we never went short of meat!’

SW ‘Isn’t that all a bit of a myth though Derek, the hot summers and snowy winters; the big smogs, and Sherlock Holmes fogs?’

DL ‘Myth? Myth? Course it’s not a fucking myth. I was there, I lived it. Look at the newsreels, the old telly. Beowulf is a myth, Mount Olympus is a myth. My life is not a fucking myth. I didn’t imagine it, didn’t dream it. Just take it all won’t you. Now my life and memories are just figments of a strange imagination. If you try hard enough you can just erase me from the records. I never existed. Winter wasn’t cold, summer wasn’t hot. It was all a FUCKING MYTH.’ (Shouting, leaning forward aggressively)

SW ‘That’s not what I’m saying. I just think that you remember it with intensity, exaggerated for effect, that’s all. The word myth is just an expression. All those old days, the characters, the weather, doors left open, I am just saying it’s seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses, that’s all.’

DL (Sarcastic tone, shouting)‘CHARACTERS! Don’t talk to me about characters. They really have gone. All that’s left are nutters shouting in the streets. We had real characters, we did. I tell you. Old men by braziers, you won’t remember them. They were night watchmen really. Kept an eye on the tools, they did, the holes in the ground. They had a nice brazier, big fire, sometimes a little corrugated iron hut to squat in, case it rained. If you were chatty to them, they would give you a cup of tea, maybe a half a sandwich; tell you some good stories, they would. What you got now? Iron cages, locked boxes, uniformed guards popping by in little vans. Lots of old boys out of work, with nobody to chat to. Tell me that’s progress. (Calms down) There used to be old women walked about with prams full of newspapers. They were a bit mad sometimes, I grant you that. Made a few bob though, selling the papers down the warehouse in Charlton, or Deptford. Now the papers just blow about in the wind, like all the carrier bags. Where’s the blokes who used to see you back? You only had to hear the crunch of a motor going into reverse and someone would be there. “C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, oooold ‘it”. Never wanted anything, just loved to see you back. Where did they all go?’

SW ‘I don’t know Derek. I do know that we have to get on please. Why don’t you just finish that shirt now? It really is almost time.’

DL (Ignores comment, gazing wistfully) ‘Respect, that’s what’s gone. You went into a shop, you behaved. I used to collect old bottles from all over. They paid deposits on them, never bothered to take them back. Me and my mates got them, took them back, got a penny for most, thruppeny bit for some. Waited our turn properly, then spent the money on sweets in the same shop. Knew the rules, the way it worked, respect. Coppers was the same. Give ‘em cheek, you got a clip round the ear, or they told your Mum on you. Kept out their way, we did, had respect.’

SW ‘I think I know about that Derek. I was brought up to respect my parents too, and Police, and Old People, and Education and Learning. I’m with you on that one.’

DL ‘Where was that then?’

SW ‘Enfield, Derek.’

DL ‘Oh, very funny. I mean originally, where your family came from.’

SW ‘Africa.’

DL ‘Africa’s a big place. Where from? I know the countries, I’m not stupid you know.’

SW ‘Uganda Derek. I was born in Uganda.

DL ‘Chucked out by old Idi Amin I guess?’

SW ‘Something like that. We came here when I was very young, I don’t remember it. But we have our values the same.’

DL ‘When I was a kid, there was some great countries in Africa. I had the stamps. Still remember them now. Bechuanaland, Nyasaland, Rhodesia, Belgian Congo, Liberia. ‘Ere. Do you know about Liberia? Given to the slaves by a Yank called Monroe it was, hence the capital is called Monrovia, after him, and the Liberia from liberation, see? Mind you, I never found out where he got it from in the first place, so he could give it to the slaves. Probably nicked it off some other poor sods, typical Yank. Done it again with Israel didn’t they? Snatched it off some piss-poor Arabs to give it to the Jews, They are good at that, deciding who has what, and who lives where.’

SW ‘It was the English who had the influence in Uganda Derek. The English who put him into the position he achieved.’

DL ‘Well we got the bill didn’t we? Got you lot here. We gave you homes, jobs, rights. What you got to moan about? Bet if you had stayed there your story would be very different. You wouldn’t be here now, telling me what to do, or where to go would you? Education? You would be walking 10 miles to school with no shoes probably, to learn English off a slate from a load of Nuns. I didn’t have the luxury of a real education. Learnings for poofs, my step-dad told me. A real man works for a living. Had to work on the Meat Market at fifteen, humping meat about at three in the morning, stinking of blood and fat. And the noise, you wouldn’t believe the noise… I had to learn from books. Read and digest, the hard way. I got out as soon as I could though, into the Print at eighteen. My Mum’s brother, Uncle Charl, was Father of the Chapel on the Telegraph. That’s like a shop-steward, a Union bloke. Got me in, and I never looked back. Not ‘til it all closed up, and went to the East End. Then came  the strikes, the aggro. All grief, I took the redundancy.’

How about that cup of tea now? I’m a bit dry, I am.’

SW ‘There’s no time for tea Derek. Honestly, they will be here soon. You really must be ready. They are busy, and they won’t be able to wait, if you are not ready.’

DL ‘Have you been back? You know, to Africa?’

SW ‘ Never, since I came here. I have no family there, so no reason to go.’

DL ‘Why not go just for interest? I don’t have family there, I’ve been though.’

SW ‘ Really? Where did you go?’

DL ‘ Went on a Nile Cruise, and a Safari to Kenya. Spent some of me redundancy money. See the world. That surprised you eh?’

SW ‘ So, what did you think?’

DL ‘Got me camera nicked by a monkey in Kenya. Lost all me photos, didn’t I. Egypt was great. Sad about all the monuments though, just ruins really, they never kept them up nice. Thing about pyramids, take a lot of work to build. Must have been a lot of cranes around in them days. Bet if you were looking out the window of a place in Thebes then, couldn’t see sod all for cranes. They didn’t realise. Building’s not the thing. Good swords, bigger armies, that’s the thing. While they were trying to build bigger and better, the Romans came and nicked it all. Better armies, better swords, catapults, that’s what was needed. High-rise wasn’t necessary in the Ancient World. Ruthlessness, not cranes, that was the order of the day. Same thing today really. French had Versailles Palace, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. Germans had better tanks, better guns and Blitzkrieg. Job done! Israel’s the benchmark. Name a famous building in Tel Aviv? Can’t, can you? They don’t have world class Architecture. They just have a fucking shit-hot army, so they rule the roost in the Middle East. Should have told your family in Uganda, or whatever it was called before we got there. Less grass huts, more spears, better discipline. Stop eating your neighbours, get off your arses, sharpen the spears, and bang-crash, no Colonials. Too late now, of course. You’re all trying too hard to be English, waving your passports in our faces. Well Adye, you can have it. This Sceptred Isle, this shit-hole called England. I don’t feel part of it any more. Take it, do what you like with it. I’m done. It’s not racism, I have never felt remotely like that. It’s fatigue. I have tried too hard, for too long, just to fit in. I’ve had enough now, putting in my papers. The typical Londoner, the typical Englishman. Jack the Lad, one of The Boys, Decent geezer, one of The Chaps, A Face. What’s that now? It’s not me, I can tell you.’

SW ‘It does sound racist Derek. Do you have issues you would like to discuss? You will have the next few days to talk things through, if you want.’

DL ‘Can’t you see it’s not about colour, religion or race? History has caught up with me, with everyone like me. We’ve had our day, and it’s gone. We just don’t know what to be anymore, what to do, or where to go. We used to be it, all there was. They looked to us to get it done. Now we are just in the way, embarrassing, past our time, needing to be shut up. You don’t see it now, but you will one day. Frustration is a terrible thing to bear.’

SW ‘That all sounds very interesting Derek. Why don’t you save it for the Hospital? We really don’t have the time to discuss all this at length at the moment. The clock is ticking…’

DL ‘ You only see me as I am now. You can’t possibly imagine how it was once. I had a wife, a nice flat, good job, a future. (Derek goes and fetches dusty photos in a frame, shows them to SW). Look, wedding snaps, 1967. I was twenty, she was eighteen. I had hair then, nice suits, looked sharp. She was my mate’s sister, worked in Woolworth’s in Holloway Road. Loved to dance, she did. Course, music was good in those days. Motown, Soul, Ska, none better, even today. It was great at first. We rented a nice basement in Kentish Town; two beds, inside bath and toilet. It was expensive, still we both worked and I was on shift, well-paid. Later on, I think she got bored. She started going to Bingo with her mates on Sundays. She said she wanted some excitement in her Life. First it was Gala in Holloway, then Top Rank in Kilburn. Bigger jackpots, apparently. Before I knew it, she went five days a week after work. Even as far as Tooting, chasing the big money, I thought. Never home ‘til late, always tired, going sick from Woolies. She almost never won anything, I couldn’t see the point. Didn’t see it coming really. All the shifts, always at work, what did I know? Got me dinner, washing done, occasional night out, even less occasional nookie, I was happy enough. Thought that was how it was. Seemed the same as everyone else, just life. One night, she tells me she doesn’t love me anymore, I’m not interesting or exciting, and I’m not the man she married. She’s off to Southend with a bingo caller, to start a new life at the seaside, ‘cos he’s got a job on the Pier Bingo, and she wants some fun in her life. I’m thirty one, been married for eleven years. Didn’t hear from her again, got the divorce papers in the post seven years later. I got a card from my mate, her brother, that Christmas. Seems she was up the duff. The bingo caller fucked off. Then she lost the baby at fourteen months old, from Meningitis. She lives in a mobile home on Canvey Island now. There’s a bit of fun for you! Couldn’t be arsed after that. They only lie don’t they? If you can’t keep up the fun and excitement, they’re off. What’s the point? Bet you’re not married are you?’

SW ‘No Derek, not yet. That is hardly relevant though, is it?’

DL ‘ You’ll see, you’ll see.’

SW ‘ I have to go outside to call the Ambulance. They should have been here by now. I can’t get a signal in here,’

(SW leaves the flat, voice heard off stage complaining about the delay. Derek throws the unironed shirt into the case, screws up the trousers and puts them in too. He looks at the photos, folds the stands, and places them carefully in the case. SW returns to the living room.)

SW ‘They’re here Derek. Just waiting for the lift, won’t be long now. (Notices the packed case) What about your shirt and trousers Derek, did you finish them?’

DL ‘What’s the point? I thought, going to hospital, they will give me pyjamas. Might as well stay like this. I’m only going from the lift to the van anyway.’ (Switches off iron)

(Doorbell/knocker sounds.)

Cheery Ambulance man/woman comes into flat (Or heard outside).

AM ‘Hello Derek. Are you ready then?’

DL ‘ Am I ready mate? It’s you we’ve been waiting for, bloody hours now. seems like’

AM ‘Sorry mate, we’re very busy today.’

(Derek gets up, looks around the flat, one last look out the window.)

DL ‘’Ere mate, bet you’ve never seen a crane go up or get taken down have you?’

AM ‘Funnily enough Derek, I was a crane driver before I joined the Ambulances. I’ll tell you all about it on the way…’


Pete Johnson, 2007. No reproduction without permission.

9 thoughts on “City Of Cranes

  1. Thanks, Pete. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve worked with old-age patients, I had to do a number of assessments when the new Mental Capacity Act came into play and I’m familiar with the Sections of the Mental Health Act and how they work. I think the earlier comment about humour is quite apt, although yes, you’re right about the actor and the acting style. For some reason, I imagine the social worker as a woman, and that’s how I’ve read it, although some of his comments about women and his bitterness would perhaps work better with a male social worker (to be honest, I think the dynamic would change quite a bit and it would be interesting to see how it would work. It puts me in mind of some plays where the actors swap roles (like in a recent production of Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle’s production, or in True West. I saw a fabulous production on Broadway with John C. Reilly and and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and wonder if, instead of that, having the sw played by a man and a woman in different nights would make a lot of difference. Perhaps some sort of intro or prologue of sorts to set the scene, for people who don’t know how sectioning under the Mental Health Act works… An aside by the ambulance man? I’ve met people on the other side of this, when they arrive at the hospital, of course, and with regards to social workers, I’ve been lucky to work with great ones, but these were part of the team and knew their specific job inside out. I know from on-call experiences that’s not always the case with somebody on-duty who might work with a completely different client group in their day job (children, adults…)
    This would work wonderfully somewhere like the Studio at the Crucible, in Sheffield. They always have brand new plays, many by unknown writers, and it can be luck of the drawer, but I’ve seen watched some wonderful things there. Here’s to hoping… (Or perhaps a short film?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, and your thoughts, Olga. I knew you would obviously appreciate the finer points of Mental Health surrounding this. As for a prologue, the running time was set at 20 minutes, which would have left little room for much of an introduction. That could have been covered in the paper programme though. I always thought the humour would come from the performance, but I wanted it to be more sad than amusing of course.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Thing about pyramids, take a lot of work to build. Must have been a lot of cranes around in them days.” I loved that line, and the whole idea of discussing cranes, a subject I assume is rarely broached in print. I assume the crane, an instrument of construction, and therefore a symbol of the progression of time, is largely a counterweight to the deconstruction of society of which Derek is a remnant. Derek’s manner of speaking is very British, and I found his colorful rant quite entertaining.

    There are some political zingers in the play that might be deemed offensive by some, and perhaps that is why your work didn’t make the cut. It may have been more what the curmudgeon says than the bitter gruffness of his personality.

    At first, I was wondering whether “City of Cranes” would work better as a stand-alone piece in an anthology, or as a scene in the story line of a full-length book. But then I realized that it really does seem well-conceived for theater. There are many plays, in fact, which involve little, if any, stage action. and also many that involve only a handful of characters. An extreme example would be “Give ’em Hell, Harry!”–a one-man play that was filmed in 1975, starring James Whitmore (nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards) as Harry S Truman. A less extreme example would be “Rope,” a play that was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, and which starred James Stewart and a handful of other actors.

    On a personal level, I was reminded of an evening spent at Tiffany’s Attic, a dinner playhouse in Kansas City (April 1984). My wife and I, along with fellow diners, huddled around a small stage during the performance of “Horowitz and Mrs. Washington,” starring Nichelle Nichols, known to Star Trek fans as Commander Uhura (at the end of the play, totally out of character, the spotlight fell on her, and she shouted, “Beam me up, Scotty!”). I don’t recall how many actors contributed to the play, but it was no more than half a dozen.

    I know there are many other plays (filmed or not) that could be mentioned, but those are the ones that came to mind. The point is that “City of Cranes” might be well suited to a “theater in the round” where a small audience can get “up close and personal” to the actors.

    If I were to fine tune the play, I would insert more humor into it (like the opening quote in this comment). I’m not sure exactly how that could be done, but I’m sure it would be possible. A little more humor would take the edge off, or counterbalance, if you will, the sharp political commentary in which Derek occasionally engages. Or maybe I would tone down or eliminate the political commentary altogether, and keep the focus squarely on society.

    What shines here is the deluge of wide-ranging observations, and the way in which they are expressed. I find the social worker a bit too patient, and also a bit contradictory in the sense that on the one hand, he/she is urging Derek to talk less and prepare more, but on the other hand he/she asks a number of questions which are guaranteed to get long-winded responses. There is a bit of humor in this contradiction, although I’m not sure if the humor was intentional. I think the social worker could use a bit of tweaking, and perhaps this could involve questions that are humorous in some way, or which prompt a humorous reply.

    All in all, Pete, I really enjoyed this foray into theater. As a footnote, I’d point out that although you put a 2014 copyright on the play, you date the piece—it plays out in 2007 (White Male approx 60 Years old, born in 1947). If I were publishing this play beyond this blog, I would perhaps keep the 1947 birth date (if you moved it forward, Derek’s commentary on society might have to be modified to fit the times), but have Derek be older, 68-70 years old. There is nothing about the play’s setup that would dictate Derek be 60 years old.

    I hope some of my observations are helpful to you. I see a lot of merit in “City of Cranes,” and hope you find a way to bring it to a broader audience. It would enlighten today’s youth as to the deterioration of modern society, and also serve to acknowledge and revitalize the reminiscences of the older generations.


    1. David, thank you as always for a detailed and thoughtful appraisal. There are many points raised, and all are very welcome. It was written in 2007, as you deduce. There is no special relevance to the character’s age, as long as he is over 60. Social workers are, unfortunately, smug and contradictory. This is true, and I can vouch for this from great experience. If you see Jimmy’s comment below, you will know that he ‘gets it’, and he has a very similar work background to mine. The humour would come from the watching, more than reading it. Derek would be a cross between Michael Caine, and Warren Mitchell (look him up) and his rants would hopefully have a comical side, if direction went with the writer’s preferences.

      It was always intended for a small audience, in a confined space, where they would be more involved. Hence the short running time, and consideration for a season of ‘shorts in a small theatre’. I am more pleased than you could know to realise that you also ‘got’ the play, and your comments are welcomed as always, and much appreciated.
      Best wishes from England. Pete.


  3. Blimey!

    That is actually very very good. I’d like to see that acted out.

    I also used to use soap for my army cadet trousers and one of my uncles told me about using a board under the mattress.

    As for the social worker almost winding up the main chap, its pretty spot on. I can actually see his smug uninterested face, he is right, never wrong, the power is in his hands…. going through the motions.

    Complaining about the delay! Those in the job will knowingly shake heads at that bit.

    Maybe too realistic Pete. Maybe that is why it didn’t get picked up.

    I liked it lots. Part of it reminded me of this poem. (you’ll need to cut and paste).'s%20Poem.htm

    There have been a couple of plays set around the ambulance service. Wish I could think of them. They had short runs. Maybe you should see about linking in with them if they run again?

    I will ask about and see if anyone remembers or knows the people behind them.

    Really very good Pete.
    Hope you have started on a book?


    1. I thought that you would get this one Jimmy. As someone who has also been involved in these ‘Section’ scenarios, you can see where I am coming from with this idea. I think you make the most valid point when you say that it is probably too realistic. If you have never experienced these situations, the truth can sometimes appear to be unbelievable.
      I have read that poem via your comments previously, and it is very good. As for the book, I am still undecided. Based on experience, or a completely fictional idea? I have to think carefully about that.
      Your kind comments are much appreciated mate. Best wishes, Pete.


  4. I enjoyed the read, Pete. The cantankerous main character is fleshed out well enough for you to stay with it, and the social worker was quite well drawn- except for one or two comments she made which seemed to me to be winding DL up. Would she really behave that way in real life – I guess the answer is very possibly! Best of all is the way you’ve closed it, with the ex crane driver, rounds it off nicely.


    1. Thanks so much for persevering with a long read Sue. I am very pleased that you enjoyed it. Both characters are an amalgam of many I met, waiting to take patients away on psychiatric sections. During the 80s and 90s when I was in the LAS, many social workers I encountered were very patronising, or just plain incompetent. Not all of course, but quite a lot of them. The comments from the social worker are an indication of how he/she receives this same tirade many times a week, and occasionally becomes angry or sarcastic as a result. It might be better to see it on stage, where a good actor could get that emotion and exasperation across.
      Very best wishes. Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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