My mind drifted into fantasy land at a very early age, and stayed there, more or less. Like my mother, I’ve never really thought of writing as a proper job, and the highs and lows of earning from it (which for most of us are getting lower all the time) never had much concrete reality. When I needed proper money I did a proper job (or worked on the grotty tabloids at least) until the financial choke-chain eased a bit, and for the rest of it – well, who wants to be rich anyway? Enough is as good as a feast; did any of you ever meet a rich man/woman who was happy? Me neither.
Lately, though, my life’s been more grounded in reality, and I haven’t enjoyed it particularly much. People very dear to me and mine are falling gently to pieces, and I’ve been a minor part of the hands-on caring process. It’s made the idea of knocking off another novella or two, or taking much part in Cally Phillips’s Edinburgh ebookfest (both of which I actually want to do) seem a wee bit too much. Despite the fact that caring is boring, it fills the mind. O untramelled fantasy, where art thou?
|It's the cuts. Nelson without a leg to stand on|
My sister and I used to sit outside the New Inn nearby of a Saturday night eating said delights, while our betters supped Brickwoods mild in the public bar bar and listened to the penny in the slot piano. The pub, inevitably, is now called the Charles Dickens, as my first school, Church Street Primary just down the road, is now Charles Dickens School.
I only missed sharing a birthday with the great man by twenty four hours (give or take some hundred years and guessing), but it took me even longer than the city fathers to realize how big he was as a name (and how usable for civic pride in a city that sure needed some.)
Being an ignorant little working class git I didn't get to read him until I took up with a university student (I was a reporter on the Daily Herald), and I must say I was sold on Great Expectations without a lot of trouble, although some of the others did me 'ead in in a very big way. That Bleak House? Come orf it, Charlie! When I got kids we used to watch Oliver over and over, and we can all still sing the songs - magic. As for the death of Nancy, well surely Dickens would have wept for joy watching whatsisface bashing in her pretty little bonce. A tabloid delight.
We all sniff at tabloids and journos these days, although I still miss the sheer fun of high-speed subbing and necking endless pints of bitter with bright and witty men and women, but Charlie would have thought such snobbery completely mad. He was a reporter, a shorthand writer, a snuffling terrier after truths, however sordid and degrading. If he hadn't been, he wouldn't have written the books, would he? I mean, how many stories do you get in a blacking factory? In the News of the World, remember, you found 'all human life'.
His private life was pretty raunchy too, and between him and his mate Wilkie Collins, the Fake Sheikh would have had no trouble dishing dirt. Charlie had a hyperactive fantasy life, which seemed to stoke his boiler with almost inexhaustible energy. Whether you think he was the greatest, or tend towards Oscar Wilde’s view of the death of Little Nell, hardly matters. Fantasy/reality? Poor sod worked himself to death. Almost inexhaustible, I said.
Like another great writer who understood the need to earn a living. Apart from anything else he wrote the probably most covered and casually sung song of the twentieth century. Altogether now:
Und der Haifisch,
Der hat Zaehne,
Und die tragt er
Der hat ein Messer -
Doch das Messer -
Sieht Man nicht!
Bert Brecht, like Dickens, would also do almost anything to earn a buck, so drove a donated Steyr when Mac the Knife made him a bit famous, to promote the brand. And when he crashed it, he called the Press in to photograph him alongside the wreck, asserting that any lesser vehicle would undoubtedly not have saved his life. Crafty Bertolt...
Had a lot of mistresses, as well. I think Mr Dickens would have saluted him! What’s wrong with lives of fantasy, after all? They keep the wolves away.
|Poor old Pompey. They've had to sell the masts...|