I’m rewatching O.J.: Made in America, the documentary, which is a complete and utter masterpiece. It’s an incredible portrait of an individual whilst also being a portrait of a nation that gives us an opportunity to look at America and its racism through the lens of celebrity. The only thing I can think of that comes close to it is Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary series, which uses music to look at race in America. I’m obsessed with that. Myself and my children have watched all of the Studio Ghibli films. They’re most famous for Spirited Away but this weekend, we watched Princess Kaguya, which I think is their masterpiece. It had my son Albert, who is eight, in tears. And myself, Albert and Esme were all spellbound and incredibly moved. I would urge anybody, adults or children, to watch it. It is one of the greatest animated films I’ve ever seen. It’s very special.
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I’m reading Motherwell by Deborah Orr, the late Guardian journalist. It’s a portrait of a childhood and a place and a relationship – I can’t really articulate it, but it is an extraordinary book. And I’m also loving re-reading the Manchester poet Lemn Sissay’s book, My Name Is Why. He is incredible.
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The soundtrack to my isolation
I’ve managed to source from Japan a boxset of Soul Train, which was this massive black American music programme in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. You’ve got people like Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Curtis Mayfield performing in studio with the famous Soul Train line dancers, and that, during these times, is tremendously uplifting. Like the box set of The Old Grey Whistle Test, it functions both as a provider of musical gems, but also a social document. Q Tip from The Roots wrote a book about it, where he talks about finally seeing people who look like him on television in America – there are chapters about his favourite episodes, their impact on him, and their impact on the black community in America. It chimes a lot with the OJ Simpson doc. Probably because I am a white boy who grew up in a working class area on black music in the 60s, I’ve always been fascinated by the the music’s impact socially and culturally.
I’ve been going out running for an hour a day. And I’ve been doing weights for an hour a day as well. So exercise has been massive for me. I’m trying as hard as I can to complement that training by eating healthily.
I found in the first couple of weeks of lockdown that I was drinking too much. The first couple of weeks I was struggling. I think possibly a lot of us drank more than usual. So I have knocked that on the head and I’m trying to stay off drink until the lockdown is lifted because it wasn’t helping me personally. I’ve not missed it, actually, because I like drinking in a social situation rather than isolation.
I always speak to my mum once a day on the telephone. But since the lockdown myself and my mum, who is in Salford, FaceTime twice a day. I got her an iPad a couple of years ago and she didn’t really use it, but it’s really helped me and hopefully my mum during this lockdown. My mum, like me, lives alone. So it has been key for both of us to see each other, to see a loved one.
I was just about to start a big job. We were supposed to start shooting a six part series for Channel Four called Close To Me on April 20. I’m 56, and I would have been learning lines every single day for four months. That’s taken away from me now and I was missing that creative outlet, so I’ve been making myself learn poems. I have recorded a poem for the NHS – I did that on my iPhone. And I’ve dived headlong into the collective works of John Cooper Clarke. I’ve been recording some of his poetry and putting them on my Instagram, which I’ve never done before. I’m gonna try and do some more – maybe some Yeats or Lemn Sissay. So it’s practical, but it’s also a creative outlet.
The A Word starts on Tuesday 5 May on BBC One
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