Friday, 3 December 2010
Tell Us About Yourself
I realise that there were some small scale, unrealistic, assumptions that it has taken me a long time to shake off. One was that some day I would have a book published and be able to be reviewed and do book signings and even appear on television talking about my book. It took me until the mid-2000s to realise that with over 40,000 unpublished novels in circulation in the UK at any one time now, that the chances of me being published is probably as narrow as winning the lottery and with a lot more effort involved to get such long odds. I went about it entirely the wrong way I see now. Rather than become famous from writing novels, I should have realised (and the example of Jeffery Archer was already around in the 1980s) that I had to become famous for something else first so that I would then get my books published, no matter how poor the quality. Just look at Melvyn Bragg, Alan Titchmarsh, Roy Hattersley let alone the supermodels' novels.
I am still reminded of the 'questionnaire' interview because it is regularly used by 'The Guardian' newspaper on Saturdays when I buy it. Looking through some recently I was reminded of my teenaged assumptions that I would one day be featured in such an article. Reaching 43, being unemployed and losing my house, it seems more unlikely than ever that I will ever be featured in one. Thus, I decided as with the other things I have posted here as the 'lead tablets' to cast them out of the clutter of my mind, it was probably a good idea to quesionnaire myself. The one that follows is a mixture of the one currently used in the 'The Guardian' magazine combined with a few other interesting questions they and other newspapers have used in the past. I do not care if no-one else is interested in this, this posting is very much for my own peace of mind.
43 years old
unemployed office manager,
semi-active blogger since May 2007.
When were you happiest?
Before the age of 2; on a handful of days out drinking with my best friend; a few days on holiday, most recently one lunchtime in Swanage.
What is your greatest fear?
Torture and being made homeless.
What is your earliest memory?
There are two memories which I can call to my mind's eye which I now know could not be genuine. The first is seeing myself from a third person perspective as a baby being handed over to my mother in hospital. Given that my brother was born at home, I can only think this is a memory of seeing one of my cousins being given to my aunt. The other is me watching a football match in colour in the living room of the house where my parents still live and being told that it was 1972. This would not have been my first memory as I was 5-6 in 1972 and I remember starting school which I did at the age of 4 in 1971. However, I now know this is also a false memory as my parents did not own a colour television until many years later. Perhaps the first genuine memory is crawling up to the French windows and hefting a metal-headed hammer to smash in the small wood-framed panes in it. I have a dim memory of this event but it has been corroborated by my family, I was 2 at the time. The greatest set of memories I have of the time that have not been revived by looking at photos, are of the play school I attended, when I must have been 3-4.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
Tony Benn for continuing the faith that the world can be a more equitable and fair place.
Which living person do you most despise and why?
Margaret Thatcher for making greed, selfishness and callousness 'normal'. Rather than a state funeral, I encourage people to riot on her death.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Fear, followed by wrath, then self-righteousness. If incessant bad luck is a trait then that would be high on the list too.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Racism, followed by self-righteousness which often fuels racism.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
There have been many. The one that still cuts is the moment, aged 10 that, I shoved the chain letters that would have continued the friendly chain started by friends of my girlfriend, down the side of an armchair, because, after weeks of ridicule, I could not stand the humiliation of my friends seeing the confirmation of a connection between me and the girl in question. In those days no boy had a friend who was a girl until you hit puberty, but, precociously, I felt I had found my soulmate. I was torn between ridicule on one side and disappointing the girl in question on the other. She was disappointed, but I held the shame longer. When I apologised to her 10 years later, she dismissed it as nothing. I was not to have a girlfriend for another 12 years.
Property aside, what is the most expensive item you have bought?
A second hand car for £3,350 in 2002. I sold it in 2007 for £400 and I still see it occasionally parked in my street.
What things do you always carry with you?
Coins in a change purse, very taped up at the moment; a selection of house and bicycle lock keys on a lanyard; Dextrosol tablets usually lemon or orange flavour, never blackcurrant; two handkerchiefs much to some people's dismay; Polo mints; my 'memory book' a tiny notebook made by my lover; a pen; insulin injector; stamps; restaurant business cards even though I cannot afford to eat at them. I used to always carry some matches even though I have never smoked, a small two-ended penknife inherited from a grandfather [until carrying even small knives was banned], a camera and a hardbacked notebook which I bought in Freiburg-in-Breisgau in 1989.
What is your most treasured possession?
My imagination. I always fear I will lose it to Alzheimer's.
What single thing would improve your quality of life?
A permanent job.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
So many things battle for primacy in my dislike: front runners at present are my piggy freckled face, my flabby tummy marked with a scar, the large scar across my genitals, the sides of my head which look so long as to be alien, my hunched shoulders.
What makes you unhappy?
Fearing the future for myself, my loved ones, Britain and the World as a whole.
What things keep you awake at night?
Hemorrhoids, fear of having my house repossessed, nightmares of torture or mutation (as opposed to mutilation which tends to be encompassed by the previous category).
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
When asked this question as a teenager there was no time that I preferred as I knew they were all unpleasant and barbaric. I think I would go to 26th July 1945, the day the victory of the Labour Party under Clement Attlee was announced and a better world seemed possible. More generally I would go to the 1890s Britain when it seemed that the possibility of a better world was possible if you fought for it. I would certainly go to early 12th century Antioch out of curiosity, to Germany in the 1920s to get real background for my novels, to Renaissance Florence, to London to see the first run of one of Shakespeare's plays and to die in Spain during the Spanish Civil War so I could die for a cause I believed in.
If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would it be?
Compassion for other humans we meet. Graciousness.
If you could edit your life, what part would you change?
I certainly would cut out the bullying, notably by my parents. I had low self-esteem, but it was really crushed by humiliation both at the hands of fellow pupils when at primary and secondary school reinforced by parents' incessant portrayal of me, to my face, as 'wrong' in so many ways. Some might say it instilled humility in me, but I think I had that enough and, instead, it left me struggling to cope with achieving anything once I entered my later teenage years and especially after I had left home.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Back in 1991/2 my best friend drew up a cast list for ourselves and people we knew for a movie of our lives. Pretty arrogant by a fun pub activity. I think Patrick Stewart would be best placed to play me now, on physical grounds, but it would be a challenging role because he tends to be far more positive about life in the roles he plays than I have ever been. The late Ken Campbell would have been ideal.
What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
I usually get cast as Uncle Fester for fancy dress events. I would like to choose from one of Jeremy Brett's costumes as Sherlock Holmes in the television series.
What would your motto be?
This fluctuates, for a long time it was 'Semper Diligentia, Semper Felix' [Always hard working, always happy] from when I assumed I was going to be ennobled at some time despite my opposition to the House of Lords. It became the more venacular 'Better busy than bored'. I think these reflect my life, but a motto should be a message to the future and on that basis I would choose between 'A life lived in fear, is a life half-lived' or 'It is better to die on your feet than to live forever on your knees', neither of which are my invention.
What is your favourite word?
What words do you over-use?
'Of course', 'Today, I' and 'fuck'.
What is the worst thing anyone has said to you?
There is a long list. The thing that probably lingered with me longest is 'You'll never be the answer to a maiden's prayer'. Another one which lasted long is 'You must apologise for asking me out' [asking the woman speaking out on a date]. 'You are strange' and 'I've only just met this man but I already hate him' [referring to me to others even though I was standing there] come close behind.
Have you ever said 'I love you' to anyone and not meant it?
I have never said it to my parents or my brother and they have never said it to me, which is good as I love none of them. I have said 'I love you' to only three people in the world. One of them I did love at the time but to her I was a convenience and while I no longer love her, I bear no grievance against her. The other two, a woman and her son, I do love still and tell them as often as I can.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Eating chocolate [being a diabetic], masturbating [as it is for most men] and watching action movies, occasionally all three simultaneously.
What is your favourite food?
Depending on the time of year and where I am, one of the following: a good fish curry, grilled trout, roast pheasant or boar, a ploughman's lunch.
What is your favourite smell?
My lover's skin and croissants cooking in a French bakery, both together if possible.
What is your favourite book?
'The Book of Heroic Failures' by Stephen Pile (1979), one of the only books I have read more than once. Its gentle humour is lifting, and its illustration that others struggle with life, but are 'heroic' still, is inspirational. I love the concept, the title and the content of this book.
What is the love of your life?
The only woman who stayed with me more than 16 months. For a real 'what' rather than a 'who', it used to be that moment in a cinema just before the movie started. Nowadays it would be winning a challenging victory at the last on a computer wargame.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Jesus Christ, his wife and any of their children, just to find out. Mo Mowlem, La Pasionara and Rosa Luxembourg to be inspired. Laurie Lee for his stories during the meal. Thomas Paine for a refresher in what radical thinking entails. Napoleon Bonaparte and Saladin for their reminiscences. Leonardo Da Vinci for an after-dinner slide show of inventions we never saw. Mary Shelley for an after-dinner ghost story. Keir Hardie and Winston Churchill to talk about the Great Upheaval. Tommy Cooper for entertainment. My father's parents who were always gracious hosts. Of the living: Terry Pratchett, Tony Benn, Mark Thomas and Moira Stewart. I always thought of having a living comedian, but my choice has changed over the years. Once it would have been, in sequence, Phil Cool, Lenny Henry, Lee Evans, Alan Davies and now, in the dinner party setting rather than on stage, Noel Fielding or Dara O'Briain, along with Milton Jones who would keep up constant banter. Comedian Jimeoin would have to come after I had stopped eating otherwise I would risk choking on my food.
If you had a super power what would it be?
I have constantly thought about the ability to teleport myself in my life, so I think it would be the power that I would be best equipped to deal with. Given what I answered to the question above about when in time I would like to visit, then a time travelling ability would be very useful to me. It might also show me that bad decisions I believe I made were the only right decision at the time.
I would be quite happy to swap a super power for the power to learn a foreign language well, to be able to do a martial art and to play a musical instrument.
What is the worst job you have ever done?
Wrapping shrink wrap around 2-metre high cages of food before they were loaded on to lorries throughout a 10-hour night shift, and, being told on my first (and only) night on the job that I was not doing it fast enough. Having been turning round and round the cages all night in the same direction, I could barely walk without falling over when the shift ended. I refused to return to the job. I have done jobs cleaning out rotten food, especially melted ice cream and mouldy cheese in warehouses, not half as bad as that job.
What has been your biggest disappointment?
What has been your greatest regret?
That I have always been too fearful of possible outcomes to have pursued what I have believed in, to the extent that I should have done.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
First the occasions when I should have spoken, said anything, and did not. Then the occasions when I spoke and I should have stayed quiet. I was correct to speak on those occasions but using some other medium to get the message across would have helped me have an easier life.
When did you last cry and why?
Seeing my lover and her son curled up together asleep on a bed. Mainly because it was a very touching scene and I was aware it might be the last time I would see them like that.
How do you relax?
These days, blogging. I find I become very engaged in it, it vents my anger and I forget about all my problems as I focus on what I am writing. Indulging in my guiltiest pleasures is another way.
What is the closest you have come to death?
Walking alone in the hills overlooking Oxford in 1994 when I suddenly got spasms in my feet and fell over. The main reason why I survived is because I felt it was ridiculous to die in sight of Oxford and managed to drag myself, sometimes walking backwards barefooted to a pub.
Possibly even closer was driving, joining the M3 from the M27, during a rain storm one morning in 2006 when a cars from the left and the right of me both decided to overtake and then cross over a couple of metres in front of me. How all three of us did not collide, I have no idea. The junction is tricky as the inside lane of the two-lane slip road continues running beside the M27 to become the exit slip road for Eastleigh, effectively giving the M27 four lanes at that point. I had been in the outside lane of the slip road which had then merged into the slow lane of the M27. The car on my left had overtaken me on the inside on the slip road and now moved across two lanes to the middle lane of the M27. At the same moment, the car on my right moved from the M27's middle lane moved across two lanes to the lane for the Eastleigh exit. Statistically all of us should have died. It was only because I had slowed to 60 mph to comply with the matrices, plus luck, that we did not.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Too many people act on the basis of how something appears superficially rather than on the basis of the deeper truth.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Not being unemployed for longer than I was.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
Difficult question, probably 'Concierto de Aranjuez' by Joaquín Rodrigo (1939) at the start and 'Bring Me To Life' by Evanescence (2003) at the end, though like most people I have a whole set of tunes and songs I would like played. I would love it if the people who attended, assuming there are some, left to the theme from 'The Water Margin' by Masaro Sato (1973) as I hope it will inspire them to get out there and challenge some of the injustices of the world.
How would you like to be remembered?
As better than I am in reality. I hope people will remember a good friend, someone who spoke plainly, someone who stood up for what he believed in, someone who was an entertaining raconteur and someone who was considerate and understanding. Quite a tall order it seems.
Tell us a joke.
Q: How many Surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?