Empty me a head by Jan Needle
|A student who'll take anyone for a drink - my son Wilf|
Writers block – choose your own position for the apostrophe – is a condition I’ve never suffered from. I started scrawling words on bits of paper almost before I could hold a pencil, and was speedy from the word go. When I went to Church Street Primary School, in Portsmouth (now called Charles Dickens, because he was born just down the road, not because he went there), it was quickly discovered that I could write things with my eyes closed, so to speak. I couldn’t do much else, admittedly. I couldn’t even pee very high up the wall in the lavatory, which was outside, of course, and in fact was the back wall of the rope-walk. I certainly couldn’t do sums or hold a cricket bat, or anything hard like that. But if you wanted words, I was your man.
It didn’t exactly get me into grammar school, which my parents knew was pretty damned important for a Portsmouth slum kid, but it helped. Part of the writing, you see, was the ability to make things up. When I went for my interview at Portsmouth Grammar School – having done extremely poorly in the entrance exam – they asked me first why I had managed to fill in so few pages, on any and every subject. Quick as a flash I had the answer. Poor handwriting, I opined, led to me worrying about legibility (I didn’t used that word, even aged eleven) which led inevitably to restricted output. Then they asked me what were a few of my favourite things, and I was away. I was a dreamer, an enthusiast, and I dreamed out loud enthusiastically for a good five minutes. None of them went to sleep.
Then the sixty four dollar question. What did I want to be when I grew up? Easy (and if I’ve blogged this before forgive me, I’ll sub it down a bit.) Mum and Dad had said I had to say I wanted to be a barrister, which in those days did not mean serving coffee at or below the minimum wage for a gang of multi-national crooks. They’d even tried to explain what a barrister did. And I tried. Several times the word almost got past my lips, then at last it gave up the struggle. I wanted to be the captain of an ocean-going tug, I said. Well, blurted, really. And they laughed with pleasure, and I got a place. And was a slightly less than spectacular academic failure until they kicked me out after two terms in the sixth form, when I became a reporter on the local paper.
No writers block there, either – no time. And then on to the nationals and the discovery of the north of England, which let me tell you is a far, far better place. Then on to getting three A levels aged 25, then university to study drama, advanced drinking, and Irish music. The department pubs were the Park (now demolished) and the Ducie, both in the heart of the Irish community, now largely Somalian. Of the many, many great musicians who played in them night after night, only Danny lasted until the last few years, and played a lonely fiddle on a Friday night even when the latest student intake didn’t know the difference between a jig, a reel or a slow air. They still bought him pints of Guinness, though. Good folk, students.
|Captain Jan - a young man's dream...|
While I studied drama I began to write it (essays being far too boring for my taste), then short stories and novels. And when I graduated I became a casual sub, which kept me in enough money to indulge my every whim. Good God, if I’ve had a wasted life, I’ve certainly had fun wasting it! I possibly nearly drank myself to death (you’ll note I said I studied advanced drinking; well, for a journalist, that’s some step change) and still raise a glass to the blessed Barbara Castle now and then. She brought in the breathalyzer, and I don’t drink and drive. Simple. Thanks, Babs.
So what am I mumbling about writers block for? Because February is the shortest month, and I’ve been to Poland, and to London, and up and down the country like a yoyo and (ah, poor thing), I’ve had a chest infection, a bad arm, and I’m not much closer to getting my second big thriller finally read through and go-aheaded (like that word? I just made it up) and now I’m immersed in Cally Phillips’s fascinating Brand Loyalty (she knows how to bribe: she sent me a free paperback, none of this Kindle nonsense. Although she did know I’d already paid Amazon for a copy.) Basically, I ran out of time.
Time to be sensible, that is. I did have some photos I wanted to put up (me playing double bass in a Krakow restaurant for one, despite the fact I’ve never touched one in my life and never used a bow before. Polish musicians are just as nice as Irish ones!) and I think I had quite a good topic in mind. But I couldn’t access the pix, because I keep changing computers and getting lost, and then I found I couldn’t remember the topic anyway.
So here you are, then. If that’s writer’s block, then you’ve got me bang to rights – I’ve got it. Probably nearer writers diarrhoea some would say.
PS Thanks to eldest son Hugh, and to Anne, for taking me to Krakow, and to Auschwitz. An amazing present.