Sunday, 20 March 2016
Give us a job
It is not just since I hit 60 that I sometimes sit down and contemplate all the things I will never do, but these things do tend to mount up, the older one gets.
I must have been about 25 when I finally understood that I would never solo-pilot a jet-fighter, especially since I had never joined the RAF as a boy-entrant, let alone the ATC.
Of course, there are many things that I would have never been able to do no matter how young I started - I am thinking about singing that aria from Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' in particular. My pre-pubescent voice would never have had the volume to reach the back stalls even if I could have hit the top notes.
Here's something that you may not have known: My paternal grandfather was once a Strong-Man in a travelling circus. I bet there are not many people in the world who can boast of that. I am not sure how strong he was, but all the males on that side of the family were big. I am the smallest at 6' 3" and 14 stone.
When I left art school, I wanted to be a sculptor, and although I sort of now am (it is my self-designated job-description to avoid being called a mason or worse) I am by no means a Fine Artist, and that's fine by me.
When I stopped wanting to be a sculptor, I wanted to be a film director, but could not be bothered to enter the industry as a runner - or worse - so that dream was quickly and pragmatically forgotten.
Having spent the last 35 years enduring hard, physical work, I did have a notion of earning enough money to subsist when my body inevitably fails me, by being some sort of writer.
Most writers who earn just enough money to cover a mortgage begin as journalists on small-town newspapers before enrolling on a creative writing course run by a well-established writer, but the fact that well-established writers have to supplement their incomes by working for universities should be a bit of a clue about how hard it is to make any money by sitting at a keyboard all day. It isn't getting any easier, either. Ask Sarah.
In the halcyon days before the austerity cut-backs, when newspapers were made of real paper and did not depend solely on advertising, I knew quite a few Fleet-Street type journos who did very well out of scribbling.
One of them (Kate Wharton, now sadly dead) proudly showed me a piece she had written for one of the Sunday supplements, saying that it was one of the best things she had ever written. I read it, and thought it was shit from beginning to end. Thankfully, I did not tell her what I thought about it.
I could not understand why she was so pleased with this lengthy article, but then I understood.
Kate's thing ticked all the editorial boxes. Aside from being well-constructed, it spoke with the political voice of the newspaper (sotto voce), and she had taken great pains not to burden any of the readership with any well thought out and well presented opinions of her own. It had a beginning, a middle and an end - all of which fitted nicely into the word-count allowance. Jeremy Clarkson got away with it for about 10 years longer than anyone had predicted.
I now know my place, and spend most of my time trying to prevent others from invading it. I suppose that this is what most people do right the way through their careers, but - up until now - I have never had to. Keep Sundays special.
Posted by Tom Stephenson at 06:24