Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Disgrace

As a spoddy, nerdacious and antisocial teen (and we're not talking the new kind of 'antisocial' here, which involves having high spirits, a gang and a knife - this kind of antisocial didn't have enough friends to have a gang, and even if it did it would probably have ended up as more of a book club) I learnt history from a collection of exciteable middle aged gentlemen who heard about the elbow patch in 1972 and never looked back. They were the kind of men (and they were all men) for whom twelve-thirty meant the death of King Otakar I of Bohemia* not a slightly early lunch.

Anyway, one of those fine fellows maintained a honourable yet faintly baffling belief that the most serious punishment he could inflict as a teacher was to put somebody in disgrace. This was a private school, so the alternatives included picking up litter, writing improving essays about morality, sweeping the chimneys or providing the CCF** with a mobile target for shooting practice. But for this man nothing could be worse than to be put in disgrace. He would fix his pale and weary eye upon a juvenile miscreant and intone:

"Would you rather be in detention, or in disgrace?"

The smirking delinquent would inevitable answer the latter, whereupon the teacher would sigh sadly, as if trying to expel all the world's wrongs through his nostrils in one go, nod sternly, and announce:

"Very well. You are in disgrace."

And that would be that.

The point is that if this web-log were a history essay, perhaps on the socio-economic causes of the European counter-reformation, or maybe just on the historical context of the bedroom-dwelling, internet-connected Londoner, I would almost certainly be in disgrace. This sorry excuse for an update is ten months late. Ten months! I could have had a baby by now. Well, in terms of time, anyway. I wasn't that bad at biology.

So, my excuses. I don't have a dog who could have eaten it, so that option's out. I have a cat, but they don't have quite the same appetite. They can barely manage a week's essay in one sitting, even if you write it in tuna-flavoured ink. I know. I've tried. It knackered the fountain pen, let me tell you. You'd need a pretty hefty feline to chew through a ten-month hiatus. I'm thinking Jungle Book, here. Maybe something prehistoric with tombstone teeth.

With the canine excuse no longer an option, I might as well tell the truth. For the first few of those months I was finishing a novel of dubious quality (For the Sake of the Song, a modern thriller of murder, mystery and folk music, available to anyone with the patience, inclination and my e-mail address). Much of the rest of the time I frittered away, and that's to give a bad name to potato fritters. Then, fuelled by determination and Victoriana, I polished off a mildly shoddy radio script (A Wait of Years, a tale of modern London featuring a gentleman thief, an heiress, a mad scientist and an explorerette (or whatever might be the correct term for a lady who explores***).

Basically, I'm contemplating getting back in the swing of things. I have a few scribbles from the past few months which I'll shove on here over the next few days, and then I'll start posting some new stuff. Perhaps nobody will read it, perhaps it will peter out after a month or two, or perhaps I'll accidentally uncover a shocking conspiracy theory and be disappeared by Them. But none of that matters: like an ex-member of a boy band embarking on an ill-advised, short-lived and entirely unmemorable solo career, I'm giving it another go.

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* No, they didn't teach me that. Wikipedia did. Wikipedia also taught me what actually happens in Book III of the Faerie Queene, but you're not allowed to tell any of my university tutors that. For the uninitiated, the Faerie Queene is a spectacularly lengthy Elizabethan poem about knights, violence and propaganda, structured in a fairly similar way to Leonard Cohen's career: it starts off being massively exciting, then meanders off pointlessly, has a late-season revival (that'd be I'm Your Man for Lennie, or for Spenser Book V, the tale of one noble knight and his psychopathic robotic manservant. No, really), then drifts away again into jazz minimalism. Er, less jazz for the Faerie Queene.

** The Combined Cadet Force. At an all-boys school, an ever-popular way to control the more murderously inclined students is to let them play with firearms. This gave teachers a small scrap of the revenge which they longed for, and quite frankly deserved, by permitting them to make the evil youths march in squares and roll in mud for hours on end. It also provided the popular fantasy that one day Britain would be invaded and all the little bastards would be drafted and sent off to fight more little bastards from another country, while the teachers of the world would gather in peace to drink whiskey in comfortable chairs by the fireside.

*** I initially put 'lady explorer', but that might have been misinterpreted as 'Russell Brand'.

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