I feel a little humbled, and oddly relieved
That's you, of course. You may not have recognised yourself; you may not believe that your life is plodding and workaday, and thanks to your coarsened sensibilities you may also believe that (a) I am a twat and (b) the trade of writing consists entirely of cultivating the unerring instinct to track down the wrong tree and start barking up it; and in that you may be right, too.
But it's never too late to change. I vaguely recall a short story by W Somerset Maugham which began with the words "I wonder if I can do this..." and went on to tell the tale of a fisherman who was engaged to a beautiful girl, except that he had an accident with his boat and squashed his leg, so he couldn't be a fisherman and she left him. I think what happened then was that he had a limp but made the best of things and married a plain girl who turned out to be loving and good-natured, and they had some children of whom he was very fond. The end. I may have got the details wrong but, whatever they were, they were dull; yet the story itself was compelling. And at the end Mr Maugham said something to the effect that he'd wondered whether he could tell the story of a man who was simply a decent chap living an ordinary life, and make us read it all the way through. And here we were at the end, which meant that he'd pulled it off.
Maybe there's something in this common humanity business after all, though it's a hard nut to swallow whole. You spend your whole life cultivating your difference, your finer sensibilities, your clearer vision, your sharper wit, your way with the ladies, your manly skills, your philosophical insights, all the hard-won apparatus with which you attempt to extricate yourself from the crowd, and something simple and commonplace happens, a death happens, and the apparatus is useless; it all unravels and you're drawn back in. Look:
"My father, 79-year-old ex-miner, dreadful poet, traveller, thinker, rough handyman, died in my house on 13th January. He mended my cat-flap, organised a pick-up of rubbish from our three garages, came out for a pint with me one night before he'd catch the train home to Edinburgh. Told me of his new projects, his business, the photo-shoot for a Scots dialect dictionary he'd been collating. Had a pint of Headcracker and a brandy, came home and regaled my girl with tales of rats in the pit `as big as a dug', roaring and grimacing in mock horror. Watched Father Ted and laughed so hard he nearly did himself a mischief. (And so he did.) Set his alarm, kissed me goodnight, went to bed and died.
"I found him at 7.40am, sitting up, head back, very very cold. I sat with him till 3.30pm, reading the New Testament, calmly, companionably. (He was a Church Elder, but a doubting Thomas, seeker, rough intellectual.) And they lumped him out in a body bag. No sense of him remaining anywhere. When he phoned, he'd never wind up his call, just bark `Aye. So. Ah'll phone next week,' and you'd be talking into space. He died like that. No warning, no ceremony. Just in his life. Then out.
"That's all. I have the story of my father, his life, his own flaws, his desire to do his best. You have your own story. But for both of us, that particular earthly package of opinions, smells, noise, habit, experience and prejudices has just ceased. Vacated. For me, there's a whole bunch of positive blessings just hovering. But when I close my eyes, sometimes I feel giddy with the sense of abandonment."
Janet Guild's father. We don't know each other; she wrote to me here, and now he is alive again on the page and he didn't need me to do it, because he had his daughter to do it for him: from love, not from my proud confectioner's skill. So many of you wrote, strangers extending comfort in the commonwealth of sadness. For a clever twat, a professional smartarse, it's like being brought home by a family to whom one has long affected a lofty superiority. I feel a little humbled and oddly relieved. And, just for once, I can't think of a single clever remark to make. Just: thank you.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 A Chinese journalist has appeared on state television 'confessing' to causing the stock market chaos
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
VMAs 2015: You can already buy ‘Kanye West for president’ t-shirts
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms