Christmas has been cleared from our house. The tree is down, the baubles packed away and the pretty lights carefully boxed up. The Christmas cards sit on the desk – I will go through them to make a note of a new address here, unexpected contact from a friend there and pangs of guilt at those forgotten everywhere. But I am already turning my back on 2017 and setting out on a new trip with my equivalents of Gunslinger, Claude Levi-Strauss and Everything Kool.
Ed Dorn’s Cautious Gunslinger has been my travelling companion for many years. Here’s why:
Very good. Then you must
never consort with the Perfect,
stick to the Absolute, it’s
pliable, and upon it
you seem to play any tune
Absolutely. And the tune I have chosen to play in 2018 is writing. Which means, firstly, reading. Reading about writing. And in doing so, I chanced upon David Lodge’s Writer’s Luck.
Many years ago – Lodge must have been still at the University of Birmingham – the two of us approached the last remaining empty table on the Marylebone to Leamington train, seated ourselves reluctantly opposite each other and, like synchronized swimmers, reached into our satchels and took out the current issue of the London Review of Books.
Had either of us been more sociable, in my case more confident also, this might have provoked an hour of conversation about the state of the novel, the business of writing and any number of other burning issues. It didn’t. We half-smiled to acknowledge the coincidence, nodded and bowed our heads to the printed pages of LRB.
I regret this lost opportunity. My silence was the result of not wishing to impinge on the time or solitude of a leading academic and author of one of the funniest books I have ever read, Changing Places. And his? At the time, I may have attributed it to aloofness, a kind of professorial hauteur. From Writer’s Luck, we discover that he is naturally shy, even timid; and he recounts an occasion at which he was snubbed throughout dinner by Germaine Greer, who turned her back on him, literally and figuratively, and conversed exclusively with her other neighbour.
The anecdote resonates with me because it brings to mind a similar episode. I have been a snubbee also, although not in such exalted company. I can confirm that being trapped by the cold shoulder in a social situation is not pleasant, even if one’s embarrassment is shared by one’s fellow diners.
The fact that both events occurred many years ago, and Lodge and I still remember – ah yes, we remember it well – is testament to that.
But I shall try to forget and forgive. And if I cannot forget, laugh about it:
Entrapment is this society’s
Sole activity, I whispered
and Only laughter
can blow it to rags.
That will be the resolution for the new year. Never consort with the Perfect. Stick to the Absolute. Play any tune you choose. And have a larf.
In 2018, “the sheer writing of the poem must be our shelter”.
Today from the everysmith vaults: I would by now have ventured an opinion on the latest from Bob, which concerns itself with the Gospel years from 1979 to 1981. I have been listening, promise. And although I was less than enthused by his embracing of Jesus – think I only saw two or three shows during this period – I have to confess that there are some great songs and some brilliant shows. Nevertheless, my Christmas playlists have been heavily weighted in favour of Chris Forsyth, Dream Syndicate and the Dead. No, no regrets.