I first became captivated by words and combining them into interesting sentences, paragraphs and narratives when I was a child of single figures, which is quite surprising. You see, in my twenties, I received a bombshell of tardy and bellicose information. A specialist diagnosed me as being as profoundly dyslexic as a cross-eyed sloth. Although, at the time, I couldn’t spell dyslexia, or did I know what meant to my future? So, I looked up its significance in a thesaurus. However, this thunderclap of a revelation didn’t change my life one bit. Why did they even bother telling me? Somehow, and not knowing what I didn’t know, I blindly stumbled my way around the problem and took my disability in my stride. Sometimes ignorance really can be bliss. I always compensated! Today, the dragon lady (aka my wife), in addition to being my boss and very active conscience, also takes it upon herself to read everything I write, correcting spelling mistakes and typos of which I still make many.
Until a year or so before I was due to fledge my parents’ nest in search of further education, they only allowed me one hour of black-and-white TV per day. Instead of television, I developed the habit of devouring constant and varied steam of books. I would read anything I could get my hands upon, including the telephone directory, and as a result, the power and influence of words captured my complete attention. I’m smart enough to know I wasn’t blessed with an excess of natural intellect. Although writing and words were something even I, the class dunce and village idiot, with just a little patience, could do quite well. I learned how to craft a smattering of cautiously selected words into something readable, and on almost any subject I could ink a few paragraphs of interesting vocabulary which flowed well together and even raised the eyebrows of teachers. It was my only skill, and in an early school report it read; “he is an annoying and immature child, although a gifted wordsmith, spelling is dreadful.” Quite unsurprisingly, English was the one class at school I had a passion for.
I used my allowance of one hour a day of TV wisely. Although I can’t remember its name, my favourite program was about a private crime investigator. It couldn’t have been very good as they aired only a few programs before it was dropped and became history. The best part was the program for me was the introduction where a comfortably cardigan clad writer sat engrossed and clicked happily away at his typewriter working on his next bestseller. With his tabaco pipe seemingly riveted to the corner of his mouth, he wrote with confidence and certainty. He appeared again at the conclusion of the program where he magically faded back into view. He typed the “END” on the final page of his manuscript, and adding this final page to the thick as a telephone directory pile of other pages he’d obviously written while we, the viewers, sat engrossed watching the story he’d just written unfold. It was clever television, and even at that impressionable age, the prospect of becoming a writer like this guy was an exceptionally attractive proposition.
My mother was another voracious reader and must have had the same interest in words as me. I presume it was she who had shared the chromosome which furnished me with my growing infatuation with written communication. As far back as I can remember, I awoke to the sound of words and could still hear the constant clicking of high-speed typing when I returned from school in the afternoon. My mother was a shorthand typist and worked for herself, and typed for a number of different small companies. Often these were entrepreneurs and one-man-bands who weren’t big enough to warrant the employment of a full-time secretary or typist. Although they had a strong need to produce regular, professionally turned out correspondence, and my mom expertly filled this need. Several times most days an assortment of nice gentlemen in flashy cars visited our home.
My father, one of life’s natural comedians, cruelly used to speculate what the neighbours thought of her and to keep them gossiping suggested we should place a red light in the window, although at the time, I had no idea what this meant.
These gentlemen would sit in our kitchen where my mom worked, and with a cup of tea in hand to keep them well lubricated, and they dictated their letters and correspondence to my mother. Fascinated by her skill, I often used to sit and observe. The gentlemen who provided her business dictated at a remarkable speed, and my mother effortlessly captured every word on her little notepad, and then she accurately read it back to them. Later, and when they had left, she typed out their letters and correspondence in readiness for signing and posting. My mom was the equivalent of the modern voice-activated software-enabled computer. Her customers were all nice people who usually paid me a little kind attention and often gave me a few coppers to spend on sweets.
There was just one person I didn’t like, simply because she made it very obvious, she didn’t like me. In fact, I don’t think she liked anyone, including my mother, who I later discovered only tolerated her because she paid more than the businessmen. She arrived on a broomstick, had a crook nose, and a big wart grew on her face. I’m only joking about the broomstick, although it would have suited her personality. When I became a teenager, my mother told me she was a writer. I was disappointed because she was the narkiest person I have ever met, and I wondered if I would develop a similar dark personality. Even in front of my mother, she went out of her way to snap at me with her acid tongue and attack me with cutting, condescending and sarcastic remarks and statements that were way beyond my pay grade. A chain smoker, she sat in a thick cloud of her own pollution, and smelt like an ashtray as well as another unpleasant odour also, I later discovered this to be alcohol! She was sullen, depressive, and walked with a pronounced limp. My mother would send me out to play when she was around. In my mid-teens she stopped coming, and compassionately my mother told me she had many severe mental problems and had committed suicide, “the poor woman was so unhappy” my kind mother shared.
As far back as I could remember I was always happy to sit, write and compose short stories and tales directly from my imagination. My mom often used to give me a piece of paper and a pencil while she was typing and asked me to write a story upon a topic she thought up. Sometimes, if my story was good enough, she would even type them up for me, and I still have many of my early stories.
When I was ten or eleven, I started keeping a diary, but frustratingly it never had enough room for what I wanted to say or write. So, my mom, seeing I was earnest, came up with a one size fits all needs solution and purchased me a thick A4 size, hardcover notebook with five-hundred lined sheets. It was overwhelming and made me feel truly privileged to have so much space in which to write. I would write the date above each new entry and I felt like a real writer and seriously considered wearing a cardigan and smoking a pipe as I wrote. Some days I penned just a few sentences of thoughts, while other days I would fill pages and pages.
My journal became my best friend and confidante, and here I would share and record my most private of thoughts, frustrations, disappointments and ideas. I was a strange child, and quite quickly I began to prefer spending time writing in my journal than playing with other children. Was this healthy? Fifty-five years later nothing has changed, I’m still strange and I still write in my journal on an almost daily basis, as well as my spelling being just as atrocious. Recording the conversations in my head always was, and still is, a very cathartic process, especially when I began to write in a more entertaining and readable way.
In my early twenties, I started my own entertainment business as a magician and children’s entertainer. I soon realised I shouldn’t keep my skills a secret if I wanted to make money, and that I needed to promote my talents. By complete accident, at the same time, and just by being in the right place at the right time, I attracted a load of new prospects through a chance press release written by a journalist. I was hooked. For me, PR worked, and from that point forward I became obsessed with this new free-form of advertising. I practised and improved my PR (press relations) on a weekly basis. I discovered the true potential of a press publication, and that it was a very symbiotic relationship. I honed my skills and my writing began to generate both custom and an income. As my twenties rolled into my thirties, I got into importing and mail-order marketing. I soon became overwhelmed with businesses enquiries and those who wanted to know who wrote my copy for me? Discovering it was me, businesses and entrepreneurs began requesting I also wrote their sales copy. Word got around and my business grew.
I was busy, busy, busy.
Generally, I’m a sharing person, but NOT with my pens and notebooks. These I regard as close friends, and I have become more protective over them than a starving dog guarding a bone. Stupid I know, but I feel I’ve developed a relationship with my pens, notepads and computers. They’re my work colleague’s and they’ve served me so well the least I can do is to guard them well from less caring thieves.
At first, I would write with anything I could get my hands on, usually pencils, and as they diminished in volume from their constant sharpening, I began to feel sorry for them, and the fact they had just a limited life left within them. I would use them until they were almost too short to hold. Even then, I refused to discard them and for nearly 30 years a sizeable dish of pencil stubs sat like memorial collecting dust on the edge of my extremely tidy desk. It’s the same with pens which break or wear out, as I always keep them. Throwing them out or discarding them to me would feel disloyal and similar to taking a healthy pet cat to be put to sleep by the vet. I have developed an unusual sentimental affinity over inanimate objects over which I can become highly emotional.
For a long time, I wrote with ballpoint pens, although forgive me for saying this, they don’t seem to provide the same feel or flourish of freedom as the fountain pen when I use them. The only early positive benefits of a ballpoint were I could purchase them with a wide range of coloured inks. But now, I can also buy ink cartridges in a variety of colours. The big problem with ballpoint pens for me is that I work out in the sun at every opportunity, and they tend to overheat and then begin leaking.
When I first converted to fountain pens my writing pleasure definitely increased, although at first, I seem to get more ink on my fingers and the page than I wrote in text. Most important of all to me is the fact that I feel a fountain pen makes me a better writer. What an idiot I am! There is nothing special about my pens and I found the ones which suit me best are lightweight plastic ones which are extremely inexpensive to purchase, although this doesn’t mean anyone can borrow one.
I have similar feelings about my books and notepads, which I respect too much for their service to me to discard or throw away. As a result, I have filled to overflowing a cupboard with my long filled to capacity notebooks, pencil stubs and broken pens. The dragon lady refers to this place as “the graveyard of words” and tells me that one day she’ll throw everything away. She can be such a cruel woman!
Just pay me a little respect!
So now that I’ve fully explained my feelings surrounding my writing equipment, please don’t touch them, or I will wish terrible and quite unthinkable atrocities befall you and I will very childishly hold a vindictive grudge against you FOREVER! – please don’t let this happen.
Last year I’d chose to stay at a wonderful hotel in Marrakesh Morocco for its extensive beautiful and quiet gardens. I planned to enjoy a couple of peaceful weeks alone in the sun with beautiful surroundings and the occasional whiff of open sewerage. I had found a quiet place for myself away from the maddening crowd, and here I sat undisturbed and happily at peace with my thoughts, and writing short personal narratives. The situation was ideal, and just fifty yards from a well-stocked, all-inclusive hotel bar. Feeling pleased with myself and that I had written enough to deserve a refreshing beer, I went to fetch one.
Beer in hand, I turned back towards my table just in time to whiteness a dreadful sight which came close to furnishing me with a heart attack. One of the animation team (hotel entertainers) first ripped half a page out of the middle of my moleskin notepad. He then proceeded to scribble heavily upon the mutilated sheet with one of my pet pens. AHHHH, my babies! I screeched at him with horror just in time to see him carelessly drop my lovely pen on the concrete floor, and directly on its nib permanently destroying it. I screamed abuse at him, and in response he smiled kindly back and laughed at me in bewilderment at my puzzling display of anger. He was ignorant to the fact that my pens are as precious to me as diamonds, and the fact I regarded he had just committed a capital crime equal to genocide or rape. He totally ruined my day, and I still bristle just thinking about it now. He looked sadly at my unfixable pen and with a broad smile said SORRY, and said that he would get me a replacement. As good as his word a few minutes later he returned with a cheap bic ballpoint he had just pinched from another of the entertainment team. It was so well chewed it looked as though a feral dog had regurgitated it and was easy to imagine you could catch a variety of distasteful diseases from just touching it.
The animation team, being paid to entertain guests, felt they should share themselves amongst those responsible for paying their wages, and one particularly nice young man decided to take it upon himself to come and find me a few times most days. I think in a previous life he had probably been a cat, as he had the creepy ability to walk without making a sound. On a daily basis, he would walk up behind me and begin to read what I was writing as intently as if it was his death sentence. It almost was. I wouldn’t even know he was there until he frightened the life out of me by asking in a loud and equally startling voice, “what this?” And he pointed at something which I had just written he wanted to explain. I felt like punching him.
Reading over my shoulder was another taboo in my simple world, although he was a well-intentioned and a very nice young man. He was very different to one of the hotel bosses who always dressed immaculately in a shiny suit, and it was easy to imagine him as a mafia assassin. He had no manners at all and wore a permanent unfriendly scowl. A few times feeling curious about what it was I was writing he didn’t bother to point or ask, but by complete contrast would just pick up my notebook and began flicking through the pages and reading it as casually as if it was a discarded magazine.
I’m not going back to that hotel.