The pen is mightier than the sword, said someone who had clearly never been faced by a rapier-bearing maniac whilst brandishing only a Bic rollerball, but I get the drift. A few well-chosen words can change the course of history providing, of course, that you don’t get skewered before you can write them. There are times when an épée with ink might come in handy. When words fail you, silence can be the most potent weapon of all. We all understand the power of the non-speaking partner – especially after a night out. When you feel so passionate about something that you lose control of your tongue, the best advice is to hold it. If you say nothing in the heat of the moment, you seldom live to regret it later. (Unless, of course, it was not telling Aunty Thelma that there was a runaway bus heading towards her.) There are times when you have nothing to say; when you are literally unable to add anything to the conversation. I find myself out of my depth more often than a toddler in the deep end of a swimming pool, but in my case any willing hands that may appear are more likely to try to push me under than haul me out. Why do people react so badly to ‘I don’t know’? Whenever I am asked a question to which I do not have the answer, I say ‘I don’t know’ and it enrages people. They believe that I am either disinterested or that I am fence-sitting. Frankly, there are times when the fence is the only safe place to be; when you can see both sides of the argument whilst the protagonists can see nothing of value on the other side. The grass might grow greener, but if you can’t see it, it doesn’t matter. What is the point of a point-of-view if you can’t make everybody else accept it as the one absolute truth?
Every now and then I feel the desire to stop writing, but I never do: it just gives me something else to harp on about in the end. What I should do at such times is stop, put down the pen (or sabre, depending upon company) and pick up a book. I love to read, but seldom do. My wife has an unrivalled range of ‘Have you really got nothing better to do?’ looks for such occasions. In truth, other than checking the unrolled cardboard tubes from toilet rolls for secret messages from zombie workers and my wife’s magazines for grammatical errors*, I have read very little of late, although by next week I could well find myself unable to get my nose out of a book – the penalty for letting the grandkids loose with the superglue.
Anyway, most of the time I write: it is a constant thing for me and you’d think that after all these years I’d start to show some improvement. I have a very tenuous grip on grammar and I have never lost the tendency to prattle on for far too long. It takes as long as it takes for me to tell a story. Jeffrey Archer does it in about two hundred and fifty thousand words (or perhaps it just seems that long), whilst I tend to stall at about a thousand. Language is a precious gift; it seems a shame to be cavalier with it. And yet I have the ‘gift’ of couching a six word story in multiple layers of marshmallow. I should be concise, but that would involve me in the kind of methodical thinking of which I am totally incapable** My style (forgive me, I still work on the assumption that I have one) is conversational and my humour (forgive me, I still work on the assumption that I have some) lies in the minutiae, so it is natural for me to waffle on far too long about things that do not matter; that reside in Cul de sacs and back alleys away from the paths that I should be following, covered in broken fencing and bicycle parts. I may be going from A to B, but sometimes I find the diversion around the hidden ‘T’ junction beguiling. I constantly promise myself that in the future I will try to be more succinct. I strive to be very careful with words: I always try to make proper use of them, but maybe I should, like George Orwell, remove a whole raft of them from my dictionary or adopt a more economical style, reminiscent of Orwell himself, or Hemingway. (Although the result is likely to be that I will simply end up sounding like a local politician, with the vocabulary of a two year old and the narrative thrust of Roger Hargreaves.) Introspection is all very well when you’ve got something to look in on, but most of my time is just spent staring into the vacuum between my ears and wondering why fat-free mayonnaise leaves a greasy stain on everything it touches.
Anyway, this started out as a means of explaining my absence from the platform today – the lack of anything to say – but as soon as I started to write it down I realised that I never have anything to say, but that never actually stops me from saying it. And if you want to know why, I don’t know…
*I pass many a happy hour in this fashion, such magazines as currently survive are apparently put together by monkeys who failed to produce Shakespeare when given typewriters and are therefore very cheap to employ.
**If I’m honest, in most of what I write it is not even necessary to read the words in the right order.