MY reminiscences two weeks ago about my stint as a gig-reviewer has prompted a response, more in anger than in sorrow, from a former colleague about the inaccuracies in my account. "It's always dangerous to rewrite history when there are people around for whom it might be living memory," the letter begins, with what sounds like unimpeachable logic. It turns out that the vague warehouse building of my dim imagining was "formerly a theatre from whose stage Keir Hardie once addressed the masses, then a cinema ... the editorial offices used to be the cinema urinal". If only this alluringly ammoniac fact had been vouchsafed to me at the time! The building lives in my memory as a shadowy cavern whose walls were shored up by boxes of old newspapers. But I should shut up, or another of my colleagues will write in to say that they were really tea-chests containing chocolate wafers and the component parts of bubble-cars.
My correspondent sniffs about the "words without truth or meaning" that I now churn out weekly, compared with the "wit and searing integrity" demonstrated when writing for him. Well, dash it all, you impugn a chap's sub-editors at your peril! Yet these do seem harsh words from a mentor to a former protegee.
In any case, as the letter demonstrates, historical fact may be adamantine, but it is also slippery. My corresponent relates that I was the topic of much scoffing because I went for a job interview at a local theatre, just after doing a spate of virulent reviews. So the story goes, I "naively admitted" authorship, whereupon "all of the panel bar one got up and walked out". What a fantastic story! If I concentrate hard enough I can even picture the scene: a wood-panelled office, a procession of worthies trooping out in disdain; they pass before me like the descendants of Banquo, wreathed in laurels and clanking mayorial chains ... alas, the reality was different. After a bit of how's-your-father, what's-your-typing- speed, the top nob suddenly asked what my most recent review had been. A grim silence ensued: he looked as if he were mentally reciting said review, a stinker. Then the phone rang, he picked it up, said: "Oh good. Yes, we're quite finished here," glared at me and bounded out, whereupon his assistant bustled me into a Portakabin to do a typing test. So that's how I remember it; but I had better not continue, or someone will write to say that the panel consisted of the Romanian stunt cycling team and the interview took place in an ice-cream van.
Wit and searing integrity aside, the real reason I was employed was as an emissary to and from that hostile country, youth, to which the collective's visas had expired some time previously. We were strange bedfellows: Messrs Vicious and Rotten had long since pointed out the unwisdom of doing business with people wearing shoes made from organic pastry, and the burning social conscience in the news pages meshed badly with the "Piss off, Grandad" school of reviewing.
Perhaps it was naive to expect a fair interview in the circs, but it seemed like gall at the time - perhaps they amount to the same thing in the end. Point is, with a name like J Smith I might have been able to wing it, but no one could imagine that the S Feay who frothed with class rage at bourgeois first nights was a different entity to the demure demoiselle sitting in the interview room. This is one of the occasions it would have been convenient to have a double. Sometimes - never usefully - one does turn up. When I was on a teenage holiday in Wales, one of our party swore blind he'd seen me walking into town, despite testimony that I hadn't strayed from the beach all day. This apparition was not sighted again for another 10 years, when it turned up in London and took a job in the same street.
I was waiting for it to rob the Post Office or assassinate the Queen, but for a few months there was nothing more dramatic than the occasional cry of: "My God, you're here. I've just seen you go into the newsagent's," and "How did you get back from the pub so quickly?" Once the penny dropped, my co-workers attempted to bring about an encounter. Several times I was summoned to the window: "Look, there she goes. No, there. Dammit, she's just gone round the corner ... your exact double." One night in the wine bar: "That's her," my companion nudged me. "At the bar." The hair was similar. Very similar. But she was wearing frumpy clothing and was at least one-and-a-half stone heavier. "Well, the face isn't much like yours, but apart from that ..." everyone chorused. It just goes to show. You should, as Sid and Johnny counselled, be extremely circumspect about working with hippies. And you should never, never attempt to meet your double.