In Lieu of Nothing in Particular

So, I wrote a piece yesterday, that I intended to publish today, but I really didn’t like it. I had taken time over it. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, and it was about as appealing as a Channel Four documentary about Mick Hucknall, featuring interviews with Mick Hucknall, conducted by Mick Hucknall and, consequently, it has been deleted.

I now have to think about starting again with nothing much to say (I know, it has never stopped me before).

Hunt Emerson Super Nigel Best print
The reason for all of this: Hunt Emerson’s cartoon for ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’

There are two positive aspects to this current state of affairs. First and foremost, it has given me an excuse to use this wonderful and recently re-discovered (in a box in the attic) cartoon by Hunt Emerson. I found it as I was completing my office ‘restructure’ and it has been sitting in front of me ever since, shouting, ‘Use me!’ It was originally published in The Radio Times almost forty years ago, to announce the arrival of a new radio serial which I co-wrote and appeared in. (The first thing I wrote that was ever properly used.)  I do not know who wrote the attached caption, but I presume that he/she went on to a long career in conveyancing*. I had considered it long-lost and as it does at least tie in nicely with the previous couple of posts, I could not resist the opportunity to share it. As it originally appeared in a mass-consumption magazine, a copy of which I purchased, I hope this will not see me visited by the Copyright Police. I do not know who owns it, but for the record, this cartoon was drawn by Hunt Emerson and it is brilliant!

And the second positive? Well, to be honest, I haven’t thought of one just yet, but bear with me, I will.

You see, I am not, by nature, one of life’s great gardeners – my wife keeps me on the books simply for my capacity to lug heavy stuff about – but today I have been emptying the compost bin which, coincidentally, requires the shifting of much heavy stuff before I can get at it. It is the perfect garden pastime for me. It requires no skill whatsoever and obliges me to be up to my elbows in something that looks a lot like horse shit for prolonged periods of time. It could be a metaphor for my life. It is, however, a peaceful job – except for when I drop something on my shin or pierce myself with something unseen – and I get to listen to the birds singing in the field and the rustle of God-knows-what in the leaves. I am at peace with the world – at least I was, until the bumble bee, whose nest I appear to have disturbed, took a particular interest in my ear and I was forced to withdraw for a while.

It was during this short hiatus that I made the not terribly difficult decision to bin my pre-written article and plan what I would do in its place…

Part one went very nicely. I find great joy in junking something that I know is just not good enough. I have written plenty of it. I think that the thrill of trepidation in the micro-second before I press the button is good for my heart. The knowledge that all but the final page of an unfinished play has accidentally been cast into the ether is guaranteed to exercise these old, furred-up arteries, particularly when I can’t find the back-up which, I have a sneaking suspicion, I may have over-written with the recipe for carrot cake anyway. A quick check however reveals that Mick Hucknall has gone. The play has not. In relief I read a few pages of the stageplay and contemplate the possibility that I might just have decided to delete completely the wrong thing anyway…

Part two is proving an altogether more thorny issue. I thought that, as I had already decided to use the cartoon, I might write about the radio series, or at least the writing of it, but it seemed like such a vanity project that I couldn’t bring myself to it. (At least, not until I have been able to get my hair done.) I have ‘done’ gardening posts before and, in the time that has subsequently passed, my agricultural aptitude has not changed. On a scale of one to ten it is Norman Lamont. Tomorrow, I have been told, I will be pruning a large green bush (that has exhausted my horticultural knowledge) that is starting to engulf the weeping cherry tree. The loppers have been sharpened. Like the moment in the film when the single teenager sets off with a torch to find out why the lights have gone off – you know this is not going to end well. I feel that it is only fair to warn the paramedics…

Now, at the beginning of this ramble, I mentioned that there were two positive aspects to finding myself with nothing to write about today and, I must admit, that ever since then I have been trying to decide what the second might be. Well, firstly, I realise that in my last post I claimed to have ‘re-found my mojo’ and, having read through the crap I wrote immediately following that, I am pleased to announce that I may have lost it again. And secondly, I have just realised that the word count has drifted comfortably past 900 – and there’s only so much nothing you can write about…

*All careers in conveyancing feel long.

The Stuff That Surrounds Me

Photo by Eileen Pan on Unsplash

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