TRISTE E DOLOROSO
It’s a funny thing when I tell people I’m a writer – they usually say oh, what kind of books?
I don’t understand why they always assume it’s books. (Do I really look like a literary type??? I’ve never so much as thought about wearing thick socks with my sandals, thank you very much). Actually, that’s the one genre of the literary arts I’m not even vaguely interested in; I do the odd bit of journalism, comedy columns for print and radio – not to mention occasional stand-up and after-dinner speaking (SPECIAL DISCOUNT RATE FOR READERS OF THIS BLOG! AVAILABLE FOR WEDDINGS, BARMITZVAHS, RIOTS…CONTACT ME TODAY FOR A QUOTE!) – but essentially I see myself as a drama writer – plays, sketches and screenplays.
Of course, I’ve tried penning a novel (hasn’t everyone? My stuffed dog’s working on his second one as I type this. He recently negotiated a three-book deal with his agent. Woof), but personally, I just can’t get to grips with the descriptive stuff, which always ends up coming out as dialogue:-
MIRANDA: Oh, look, Roger! What beautifully-defined tiny, yellow birds on the exquisite hand-painted wallpaper to which the sun – shining in from the window immediately to my left four feet away – gives an ethereal glow!
ROGER: Indeed, Miranda, it’s charming! And notice how well it effects a glorious backdrop to the scuffed brown Ikea furniture circa 1986, which is so reminiscent of my digs in my second year at Oxford when I was reading Medieval Sophistry in Palladian Architecture with Special Reference to Gibbons!
You see my problem.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Well, I was extremely fortunate, so my friends at school told me, because I always knew what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have to think about it, my passion was so great there was never any question. That’s right, I was going to be a concert pianist.
Thus I spent four years at a well-known London music college – during which time I discovered a deep love for being an accompanist: singers – and lieder – a speciality. It was all looking very good. I had already discovered I am related on my mother’s side to Vladimir Horowitz, and when I met my college piano tutor for the first time he cried out very promising name! as he ticked me off his list of new students. My next piano professor had studied with Michelangeli, the great Italian virtuoso, who had perfected a totally different – brilliant – technique from other pianists, which gives a very warm tone. This was, in due course, passed on to me.
But then life didn’t quite go according to plan. When I left college I did indeed work as a musician, ending up as Music Director for a theatre sketch show…which I started to write, before directing and becoming its Script Editor…all of which eventually got me into BBC Comedy as a Producer/Director. I stayed on staff for five years, before leaving to
starve go freelance as a writer, and to return to my second love, the theatre.
Most of my adult life, however, has been experienced as a struggling writer.
I have, actually, lived in a garret in Paris. I’ve enjoyed (or otherwise) numerous unsuitable love affairs. I can make one hot chocolate last four and a half hours in a cafe. I wake up at three in the morning with lines of dialogue spinning around my head that I just have to get down, I wrestle with a problematic scene and am surprised to find that I’ve been at it for eight hours and not just 30 minutes, I can knock up a three course meal for unexpected guests from half a Rice Krispie, an old Twiglet and some carefully preserved mouse droppings. (Who needs Pot Noodles anyway?)
Recently, having been asked by a publisher to submit some material by email, there was delivered to my home a week later an enormous tome of some 300 pages written by a Professor Moriaty. I’m sorry to say the manuscript was soooo dull, the postman fell asleep before he could even ring my bell, and just left it propped up against my door. The envelope was addressed to me – as was the rejection letter inside. Hmm. My knowledge of the fishing industry in late 19th Century Argyllshire IS a little sketchy, I have to admit, and I would have been a fool to attempt 120,000 words on such a topic, but this was a fact that had apparently passed by the publishing company. (My own rejection followed two weeks later by email. Which was a little kinder on my postie, if not myself).
And so it shouldn’t really come as a great shock to have to sell my beloved piano. A fine, upstanding Yamaha of an instrument, I’ve had it since my dad bought it new for me in the late 80s from Chappel of Bond Street. It’s a professional’s instrument. (Don’t try it at home!). All shiny black lacquer, white, perfectly-weighted keys, three pedals (accelerator, brake and clutch). I haven’t lived with it for two years since I left for Nice, and now back in London, I’m already in possession of the lovely wedding-present bowls and picture frames it supported on the top (bit of a waste of money in the end, sorry everyone!) and there’s no prospect of me living with it in the foreseeable future, so…
Poignant evening. Memories of my father, of all those scales and arpeggios, of Chopin, Schubert, and my kittens on the keys, exploring their own form of aleatoric music. (You have to be educated to read my blog you know, I don’t write for just any old riff-raff). For tomorrow morning – I won’t be there, thank goodness – the removal firm will shift it into their van to take it north to a family with a 12-year-old who is working her way through the Associated Board exams.
I’m keeping the expensive dimpled leather stool as the idea is – once I’ve got my first Hollywood blockbuster behind me – to acquire one of those 7-octave electric things that feels exactly like a real piano. A little like buying a dress that’s several sizes too small, as a long-term incentive to lose weight.
In the meantime, though, I’m not quite as sure as I was all those years ago as to what I’ll turn out to be when I’ve grown up. The only thing I can say with any certainty, decades later, is that I’ve finally decided I definitely don’t want to be poor.