I was intending to write about one thing when a second occurred to give the first a different perspective. That’s the sort of thing that’s behind many of my short stories and plays. I keep a cutting from a newspaper or a note I’ve made and it just sits there waiting. Then along comes something else which completes it or contradicts it or energises it in some way or another and I write about it. That’s less so the case with novels because they develop in such a leisurely way that what may begin as two incidents soon multiplies into several.
Anyway, for some reason, I was remembering visiting my daughter and her two sons in Glasgow when they were little more than babies. Every night she used to read them a story and, when they were in bed, sing them a song. I’m not sure how often she’d change the song but the times I heard it it was ‘Starry, starry night’, or whatever the correct title is. She had a sweet voice, was pitch perfect and it sounded lovely drifting through from the boys’ room. So the two of them were lying there in the dark hearing this just before they went to sleep and I projected into the future and imagined them as grown men, middle aged even, and how suddenly hearing the song broadcast on whatever the medium would be then might affect them. The potential for drama, poignancy, joy, sorrow is enormous.
And I think that’s the way the writing imagination works. Set up a scenario – a man has just had a huge violent row with his wife, or he’s heard the news that he’ll be the next CEO of a major international company, or the doctor calls him in for the results of his tests, or he’s standing in the empty rooms of the house he’s just sold before emigrating to New Zealand, or his wife’s left him – and so on and so on. And, at one of these extremes, he hears the song, or another song that triggers the memory of his mother’s voice.
I know it’s not an original thought. Noel Coward, after all, wrote ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is’ (which, by the way, isn’t as well expressed as it might be; ending the quip with ‘is’ weakens it significantly – the sentence should climax with ‘cheap music’). There were also those powerful plays and films by Dennis Potter which made fantastic use of many old standards. But in this case, it was the juxtaposition of a moment of exquisite security and loving with perhaps some future turmoil that set me thinking about how the narratives of our lives are far more subtle and textured than many of the fictions we find so entertaining.
And it was while I was wondering whether to make a blog of all that that we had an orange abomination of a visitor whose every utterance and action calls into question the sapiens bit of who we're supposed to be. But, before we allow our smugness to delude us too gravely, let's consider some of our own equally troubling idiosyncrasies. Take, for example, the absurd charade of the Queen’s Speech. For those of you unfamiliar with the rituals, here’s a brief summary.
Queen arrives, puts on special robes and imperial crown, goes into the Lords and says ‘My Lords, pray be seated". Then she nods at the Lord Great Chamberlain to fetch the House of Commons. The LGC lifts his wand (seriously, his wand) to signal to Black Rod (don’t ask) to go and get them. Off he trots (with a police inspector who says "Hats off, Strangers!" to everyone they pass en route). As he gets near to the doors to the Chamber of the Commons, they’re slammed in his face. He has to knock three times with his staff (the Black Rod), and then they let him in.
OK, that’s enough. I can’t go on. At least the MPs are wearing normal clothes. Everyone else is in breeches, gold stuff, silly hats. It’s embarrassing. And as I was thinking about all these (apparently) important people doing very silly things, the contrast with the intensity and reality of 'normal' personal experiences struck me very forcibly. I know that many fellow citizens as well as non-UK residents take pride in or envy us the traditions and so on but how absurd that people who (are failing to) take huge, serious decisions about health, education, crime, poverty and all the rest, and are even responsible for (theoretically at least) concocting the legislation needed to save the actual planet, have to take part in a pantomime.
Most of our regular, repetitive daily events are light years away from the apparent 'realities' that preoccupy our lords and masters (and a tiny sprinkling of ladies). And that simple, beautiful ‘Starry, Starry Night’ drifting through the darkness is in a different realm of truth from their pomp, circumstance and ermine robes. Where the hell are our priorities nowadays?