“You have to be doing something…”
I’d always believed in even numbers.
Maybe it was because I was born on 24.10.78, maybe it was because there are 12 months in a year, 24 hours in day or just that Liverpool had won the double in ‘86, I have no idea…
Against the odds, I had just bought a house at number 17 and on the 09.09.09, just a month or so before my 31st birthday, I’d decided to write a book.
I was on fire.
Not literally, you understand. Foot loose, carefree, drunk with ideas. When asked, at the pub, if they wanted a drink, I imagined people saying ‘I’ll have whatever he’s having’, whilst nodding with eyebrows erect in my direction. The clarity of thought bluntly punched me like an un-intrusive meadow of serenity, and the possibilities of what lay ahead blew my tiny mind.
I started looking up when I walked; I began answering phone calls and even managed to crack an occasional smile now and again. It was a magnificent moment of wonder and I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, irritatingly impatient with excitement at the thought of the anticipated treasure that lay ahead.
This contentment naturally waned as soon as I realised the task in front of me.
The main problem was that I didn’t read books. For a man of 30 years to admit that if I lost my left hand I’d still have enough fingers to count the books that I’ve read, was, and still is, a source of subdued embarrassment.
‘I have no patience and find it hard to maintain concentration’ I would explain.
*Goes and pours himself a glass of red wine*
Moreover, I forget what has just happened on the previous page.
I forget what has just happened on the previous page, I have no concentration skills, and have to re-read everything to put myself back on track. It’s a frustrating experience.
‘In that case writing a book should be a walk in the dale’ was a typically sarcastic retort.
They were right, of course they were. How (or indeed why) would you write a book if you didn’t read books, a film if you didn’t watch films, or a song if you never listened to music?
‘Sure’, I’d say, ‘but are you saying that it’s impossible to catch a fish without ever having fished before?’
That response made me feel pretty smart.
Which brings me to my next reservation: my lack of brainpower. I was no great shakes at school, but having briefly impressed as a minor whilst sitting next to clever people I had managed to con my schoolmasters, and more importantly my friends and family, into thinking that I had half a brain. Coupled with above average sporting prowess I was deemed ‘a good all rounder’. The truth is very different. I was crippled by heavy, persistent OCD and a capacity for intermittent surreal daydreams.
I was, and remain, my greatest critic, but I was never ever destined to be an academic.
Whilst writing this book these problems have re-surfaced dramatically and I have had to overcome the urge to immediately (and continually) erase the line that I had just written. Indeed, the book was finished then taken away from my belonging so I would not be able to destroy it forthwith.
I had managed to destroy the first draft, though. The instinctive, spontaneous plan was to set fire to my papers and be done with all the nonsense. However, realising that setting fire to my work would be tricky (it was written on a computer, not on parchment like in days of yore), I decided to throw my computer out the window. It made an impressive double smash as it crashed through the neighbour’s conservatory.
Thinking about it now, I never should have even told anyone that I was writing a book. I think you should only tell people that you’re thinking about writing a book when you’ve nearly finished the book. Every time someone would ask how it was going, another hole appeared in the bow of the metaphorical ship I was voyaging in.
Writer’s block increased with every mention of the darn thing. In fact, if I hadn’t mentioned this to anyone I think that I could’ve finished it within weeks.
When I told people I was writing a book, I got funny looks, rightly doubting my credentials.
I would say: “Is this reverse psychology or do you actually think I can’t do this?”
Response: “It’s not reverse psychology – we actually think you can’t do this. Your vocabulary is bletcherous, and you’re in danger of becoming an autohagiographer. Please be careful of being too inaniloquent.”
Well, I guess I’m happy to be a philosophunculist, and will continue my pandiculation.
To me writing a book was not so much something that was desired, as it had become a genuine necessity. Frustrated by a lofty drought of creative activity, I was becoming sad, increasingly withdrawn from any social landscape and very, very boring. Plus, the fact that I was enjoying such isolation was concerning those closest to me. My legs were useless and often throbbed with pain, so I couldn’t participate in sports, and I hadn’t written a song or played my guitar for four years.
Furthermore, my membership card at ‘Le Gavroche’ had been suspended.
An outlet was required.
Part of my inspiration is and has always been human beings conversing. I love listening to people talk to each other.
Unfortunately I realised early on in my life that, more often than not, I myself was an overbearing nightmare to talk to. You just have to be doing something with yourself, and I was always doing nothing. Something either worthwhile or recognisable, to make you an interesting person to speak with, and I had nothing to say to anyone.
What made it even harder was that I was usually completely uninterested by them too. So I’d be wary of going out and meeting people, partly to save them from me, but also to save me from them.
I was the pub bore who hated pub bores.
It suited both parties, I would argue to myself, that I did not socialise. It was/is a difficult cycle to break, and if you choose to break it you need a talking point.
You can’t just say that you’ve been up to ‘this and that’. I’ve spent years shirking questions on how I’ve been or what I’ve been up to, and not always because I haven’t been ‘up to’ anything but often because I simply can’t remember what I’ve been doing or I don’t want to talk about it.
Q. “How are you, what have you been up to?”
A. “Erm…can I get back to you on that?”
My memory span of the last few hours is usually pretty water tight, but beyond that I find it very hard to remember events and happenings for the purposes of ‘small talk’. Occasionally I found myself repeating events and things I’d done whilst talking to people who were actually there with me when I was doing it.
It really is terrible, and I had become terrible. In fact, just call me ‘Ivan’ if you find yourself in my company and want to be in my company no more.
You must have a talking point, but you can’t make it sound too prepared. This is why I started making stuff up. It’s much easier to lie, and it almost always sounds more impressive than the truth. I found giving false accounts of what I’d been doing really easy to conjure up, and started to enjoy doing it. On reflection, perhaps (quoting Jeff Tweedy of Wilco) ‘my lies are only wishes’.
However, to avoid bullshitting all the time, which is silly, childish and ultimately counter-productive, you have to be doing something, something worthwhile, something people are either impressed by or can identify with, otherwise there is no conversation. Lies come back to haunt you and people will start to avoid you. But you do need to be interesting to talk to. If you’re not doing anything good then you have a problem.
To clarify…you have to be doing something.
When I told people I was writing a book (by means of small talk) they were always intrigued, often saying that they’d thought about doing that themselves before asking what it was about.
When I told them it was ‘about me’ the interest appeared to fade, before I told them not to worry because it was all made up. I had decided to write about myself, as it was the only topic I had good knowledge of and was qualified to discuss in detail.
‘Maybe he’s smarter than I thought’, they’d think.
*Top Tip: It certainly helps if you wear a pair of glasses when you tell people that you’re writing a book - it gives you an extra air of intellectual excellence (and in my case makes me look slightly less like ‘Minty’ from ‘Eastenders’.)*
I knew the only way to greatness in writing the story of my life was through fabrication.
Unless your life is actually worth recounting in a full truthful manner, like some of my heroes - Alan Whicker, Peter Cook or David Attenborough - writing an autobiography is repellently self-serving and grossly arrogant. Suggesting that your life is so special that people need to know about it, when it’s not special, and they don’t need to know about it, is awful.
It’s like a cyclist posing upright, without holding the handlebars.
However, given my gross arrogance, I figured that this project might actually be right up my alley.
Throughout my life I had experienced a steady flow of offbeat satirical ideas whilst observing human beings. I then conjured brief comedic scenarios that were either clumsily mumbled from my mouth (to the occasional amusement, but more often bemusement of others), or instantly, and oh too briefly, stock-piled in my sieve of a brain before naturally dissolving away, long before I could remember them or do anything with them. Little sparks of prose and creative trains of thought.
More like buses of thought, such was/is the irregularity of arrival.
The only possible route out of this depressing habit of continuously losing every grain of imagination, moments after the light bulb appeared, was to just let the brain explode onto a keyboard, or via hushed instruction to a dictaphone. Stream-of-consciousness writing, to be brought to life then reconstructed. Moulded like plasticine into something worthwhile.
I guess I was fed up with sighing all the time at the woes of the universe without capturing, and therefore perhaps expelling, some of my feelings about them. I still like sighing. I like to sigh, but I had reached saturation.
I mean, I like meatballs but I don’t want to eat them everyday.
So there we have it, I have my topic of conversation, for a while at least.
Q. “How are you, what have you been up to?”
A. “I’ve just finished writing a book. It is 88,888 words long.”
When I think of all the years wasted, pursuing other interests…Chess, Cricket, Women, Liverpool FC, then Chess again briefly, before Music and more recently Boules (see Chapter 20)…wasted, not doing what I should have been doing…well, maybe they weren’t wasted years at all.
I regret nothing (that couldn’t be further from the truth). When you’re young and you try to join the police they tell you, in a polite and overly familiar way that you need to come back in a few years – go away and get some ‘life experience’.
Well maybe that’s what I’ve been doing.
I generally admit that people should only release autobiographies when they’re moments away from death. People release them when they’re way too young, and the idea of releasing more than 1 autobiography before you’re 75 is simply unacceptable (unless you are Aled Jones, who can fill his boots).
So it’s not an autobiography.
It’s a biography that I’ve edited and then rewritten. In good time, I will update this blog with excerpts.
I, for one, am surprised, delighted and honoured that I have found the time and motivation to devote these efforts to writing about myself. After all, if I was ever going to choose a ghost-writer, who better than me?
PS. If you click on the title of the post, you will be rewarded.