On the window-sill to my right, peering over my shoulder, is a bronze figure of a chimpanzee. It is about fourteen inches high. The ape is sitting on a pile of books, on the spine of one of which is the single word ‘Darwin’. It is holding a human skull. I have no idea why. All I know is that it watches over everything I type and I am certain that at times I can sense it thinking, ‘Come on, what’s that? Give me an infinite number of mates and I reckon I could knock that out in half the time.’ It is part of the general clutter of ‘stuff’ with which I surround myself and which, I have just discovered, is absolutely vital in order for me to do this.
Let me backtrack just a little. If you were with me on Tuesday, you may remember that I was struggling to understand why the current lockdown had robbed me of anything even approaching inspiration. Well, I’ve had a few days to think about it, and I understand it now. You see, at the beginning of this enforced retreat, I decided that I would take the opportunity to tidy and clean my office. I stripped it out, I painted it and I laid the new floor that I hadn’t, until that point, got round to doing. (I removed a carpet and fitted a hard floor – you would not believe the joy that is to be found in a new hard floor and a swivel chair on casters.) It looked great and I decided that, in order to keep it so, I wouldn’t fill with all of the gubbins that has surrounded me for years. I put back the books and I put back the CD’s (I listen to music all the time and I like to pick the discs and play them as I go. I have many hundreds. I am a sad case, I know, but I am also old enough not to care) but I didn’t restore the ephemera. The office looked clean, neat and tidy and I found that I couldn’t write a word.
So, bit by bit I brought everything back into my tiny little womb and drip by drip I re-found my mojo. Perhaps I can talk you through some of the stuff that surrounds me…
To the side of the chimp is a brown-glazed Morris Minor Estate. If you are of sufficient age, you may remember these old wood-clad estate cars. They were the automotive equivalent of Mock Tudor houses except that generally they were slightly less manoeuvrable than the building (and should you want to know how my brain works, having written that line I immediately fished out a CD called ‘Mock Tudor’ by Richard Thompson, that I’m playing right now). I learned to drive in one. It had no power steering and, being the weight of a truck, it required a vigorous work-out before you were able to make it turn. It also had no synchromesh on the first two gears (look it up!) so going up hills usually involved a frightening slide backwards at some point in the ascent. I loved it. I took my wife out in it once and she refused to ever get in it again.
On the shelf above me are a series of mugs, including a George Best ‘European Footballer of the Year’, which I clearly remember being given for Christmas long ago, with a pair of George Best football boots. The boots are, sadly, long gone, but featured a circle of studs on the ball of the foot on which it was possible to swivel and, supposedly, leave the defender standing. What actually happened was that you swivelled when even you were not even expecting it, and fractured your ankle. It is notable, I think, that I do not remember Mr Best, himself, ever wearing them. Elsewhere on the shelf there are various shells, rocks and pebbles; a hand-forged roof-beam nail, which I found on the floor outside a barn on the day of my youngest daughter’s wedding; photo’s of the grandkids; a Melodica; the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a knitted PG Tips monkey.
On the shelf above that are my snakeskin boots (as worn by Jimmy Page – not his actual ones, you understand, just similar, but my God I loved them back in the day); two malt whisky bottles (empty – come on, I’m not that sentimental); a footprint of my grandson; a grey felt Fedora and a remote-control car that I made out of Meccano.
Behind me my beloved red Fender, my blue acoustic guitar on a stand and a ukulele in a bag (I fitfully try to play them all. I habitually fail); an Andy Powell signed setlist from a Wishbone Ash gig ten years ago (at which I also bagged three of his picks from the mike stand, with which I still cannot play the guitar); a drone that has done nothing but crash; a plaster duck that quacked forlornly at me as I walked past it at a car boot sale and a collection of Victorian bottles which I used to dig up until they chased me off the golf course.
In front of me I have two cork boards covered in family photo’s; paintings by my children and my grandchildren; a brass sundial (I have no idea); a Peppa Pig book on a stand; a virgin canvas on an easel, and a box file full of old ticket stubs (oh how I hate e-tickets).
Add to this lot, six drawers full of old manuscripts; thirty plus racks full of CD’s and my books, many of which are tattered and mangy paperbacks, all much-read and much loved, and you begin to see that the ordered disorder that surrounds me mirrors exactly the chaos between my ears, and that what falls out of my head, directly or indirectly, is a product of all that surrounds me, and now it is back, so am I. You have been warned…
The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with – Marty Feldman
This writing business. Pencils and whatnot. Overrated if you ask me – Winnie the Pooh
I asked my publisher what would happen if he sold all the copies of my book he had printed. He said, ‘I’ll just print another ten.’ – Eric Sykes