By Jason Nicholls
I penned my three-minute radio monologue Ghosts On The Line, while sat gazing up in admiration and envy at the stone hard buttocks of Michelangelo’s David. It was a sweltering hot summer day in Florence and I’d got up planning to see the actual statue of David. But on discovering the lines outside the Galleria dell’Accademia, opted for the less time consuming option of checking out the replica of David which stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria.
It was a win, win. I got to see David, and the building where Hannibal Lecter threw that poor Inspector Pazzi from in the film Hannibal. On top of that, Palazzo Vecchio was right next to Uffizi Gallery, and I had a special tickets which meant I didn’t have to join the hordes of people waiting to get in. I’ve never liked crowds.
I’d arrived in Florence the day before, and had immediately become immersed in its artistic beauty. The buildings, the art, the history, the overwhelming smell of the lavender in the Boboli Gardens, at the Pitti Palace. Everything seemed, to me, like a cosmic tuning fork. Resonating at the perfect pitch to bring on my cultural side. The birthplace of Renaissance was about to give birth to the next big thing in radio scripted drama. Or so I thought.
I’d been to Athens, Greece the week before. It was beautiful, but nothing seemed alive to me. Florence was an entirely different deal. Everything had been thought about. There were no cars, so none of the street furniture we have in the UK. Which meant I was free to stop and stare whenever I wanted. Drinking in the liquor of art. Everyone was well dressed, the air smelled nice, the shops were human size and welcoming and from time to time a beautiful Italian woman, or man, walked by dressed from head to toe in Gucci. Art on every side of me.
I was walking in the company of ghosts and they were great ones. The companions on my creative journey were Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. I wasn’t just a tourist passively looking at art, but really only thinking about what was for lunch, and that this was one other thing to tick off my bucket list. In Florence I was in art, eating it, drinking it, seeing it, touching it, smelling it. Just by being there I was, in many ways, art myself.
The passage of time meant nothing, Florence was a living, breathing and pulsating city of ideas. I didn’t need a tour guide to interpret what I was seeing, placing it in a historical context designed to be understood by the most basic of travellers. Florence was engaging with me directly, speaking in a dialect only I could understand. If I listened hard, I could hear Michelangelo tapping away at a lump of marble. Confident enough in his own genius that the perfect form of David would emerge in time. So naturally to me it followed I should be creatively confident too.
Florence had cast a spell on me, and I was ready to be transformed. I’ve always thought very visually, and been tickled by the absurd. Florence fed all those parts of my often messed up mind. There were nuns everywhere you looked. Some dressed in white habits, some in blue and some in white. Why was that? Who cared, this was Florence and they looked good. Catholic priests moved around the city in scholes, each beautifully turned out and clearly to me on the way to do God’s work.
So of course I took all this inspiration and wrote a script based on my time running a psychic reading TV channel on Sky. I’d lived through it, so I was sure the characters would come easily. The whole thing had been laden with laughs, so the jokes would flow. And the jeopardy? Well, imagine if the ghosts went on strike and refused to answer ‘calls’ from loved ones on earth? Comedy gold, surely.
But like the gagged and bound Inspector Pazzi, as Hannibal wheeled him out onto the balcony at the Palazzo Vecchio for his death dive, I was wrong and my comic masterpiece Ghosts On The Line would stay buried. Very soon, I’d received my first actual rejection. All very nice, asked me to stay in touch, send anything else I had written, etc etc. But it was a rejection.
Didn’t they understand the passion behind the idea? How I’d been empowered by my time in Florence to become a radio drama script writer? Didn’t they get the cultural subtext in the story of a tarot card reader cracking jokes in a tiny TV studio, offering to connect the bereaved with their long lost loved ones, for the price of a premium rate call. How pointless everything is, but how artistic it become by being realised in the medium or words, pictures or paint.
But no. I was dangling at the end of Hannibal’s rope. My bowels out for all to see. But I haven’t lost all hope. Maybe even Michelangelo was rejected at some point in his life, before his creative hands sculpted David’s world class behind? That’s a comfort, of sorts.