I've planted a tree, penned a poem and propagated. But it's not enough

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The Independent Culture
Remarkable, really, when you consider that he never did late night television himself, how much Shakespeare knew about the after-effects. Alas! 'tis true I have gone here and there,/And made myself a motley to the view,/Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear... Post- telly tristesse. The fear that you've made a public clown of yourself again, treasoned your heart, trashed your intelligence, and for no good reason or profit.

Maybe it's not so bad if telly is your profession. Who cares about goring your own thoughts if you're on a fat contract? If you're on a fat contract there's a fair chance you won't have any thoughts. Is that unjust? Well that's what happens when you're a writer and you put yourself on telly at a time nobody's watching. You turn rancid.

So why do it? Because telly is one of the ways you measure how you're getting on, that's why. Soon, telly will be the only way you measure how you're getting on. Who are you, how are you, why are you? - put yourself on telly and find out. Even when what you do isn't telly, it's telly that confirms you're doing it. Doing it well, I mean. Doing it successfully. Doing it noticeably. The final validation.

We calculated success differently once upon a time. A man was not a man, I remember being told when I was a boy, until he had planted a tree, written a poem, and sired a son. I found that useful. I knew what I had to aim at. There were other things I was interested in achieving, but what counted were those three fundamentals - the tree, the poem, the son.

I managed them, too. Not always with distinction, but at least once I had chalked them off I could conclude I was a man.

The tree I planted was a silver birch. Or so they told me. All of us at Bowker Vale Primary School were given a little silver birch to plant in honour of the Coronation of Elizabeth II. One minute our teachers were weeping openly for good King George, the next they were showing us how to paint paper flags and plant silver birch trees. How fickle grown-ups were!

Two days before the Coronation we traipsed down to a nearby field which had a tinkling brook running through it - the Bowker, I suppose it must have been - each of us carrying a stick, a sapling, a piece of string and a little beach spade. We lined up for the official ceremony, boys on one side of the brook, girls on the other, while a person from the local council told us that the trees we were about to put in the earth would be here long after we were dead. Then the headmaster rang a bell and shouted "Hurrah!" and we all fell to digging holes. We put the saplings in the ground, tied them to the sticks, shovelled back the dirt, and traipsed back. Coronation over.

Every few years, though, the more dreamy among us would return to see how our trees were getting along. It turned out that mine was a weeping willow. Cock-up by some botanist. So while every other kid's tree grew big and strong and silvery, mine sighed and drooped aslant the brook, like the willow that convinced Ophelia a watery death was preferable to life with someone who accused you of being a harlot one minute and a nun the next.

You can't entirely blame Hamlet, though. He was another one who understood post-telly tristesse long before there was such a thing.

My poem fared scarcely better than my tree. Entered for the school magazine poetry prize some months after the Coronation it didn't even get an honourable mention. I was in a different school by then. Out of primary and into grammar. Now we had masters. My English master looked like Dylan Thomas and was reputed to be just as wild. The day after he invited me to submit a poem to the magazine, which he edited, he ran away with a 15-year-old girl from our sister school across the road. For a long time I thought it was my fault. In the course of asking me for a poem he'd told me he believed I was destined for a career in literature. "What do you say to that, Jacobson?" he'd asked me. I'd gone red and stammered out something along the lines of "Don't know, sir." Whereupon he'd turned away in disgust. What if he eloped with a minor only because I'd put him off teaching as a profession?

But that oughtn't to have influenced the remaining judges against my poem. Everest is conquered, the battle has been won/Hilary and Tenzing, their duty they have done still seems to me to have fulfilled all the requirements of the prize - to wit that it rhymed, that it was topical and heroical, and that it honoured national achievement. Since that's the new Poet Laureate's brief too, I've sent it to him.

Dear Andrew, please accept enclosed on off-chance you can update or otherwise adapt. Know you're busy. All the more reason. Yours to do with as you please, anyway. That's to say my poem is. Though I, too. PS: Burn this.

I'm told that's the way you write to a Laureate. So far no word back, though. As for my son, well he thrives. My best piece of poetry, as Ben Jonson called his. And my best tree, if he doesn't mind being described that way.

So I'm measured. I've attained the three Ps of male maturity: I've planted, I've penned, I've propagated. Why, then, doesn't that feel enough?

Because it hasn't been broadcast, that's why. I want to be given my maturity prize on telly. Ripeness might be all, but only if upwards of five million viewers see you achieving it.

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