END OF STORY

Last week, I went on a "writing for beginners" course. Two tutors and 16 aspiring writers living for five days in an isolated, 12th-century farmhouse with no television.

On the morning of the second day, there was a rebellion. Five of the students thought that one of the tutors wasn't up to scratch and complained to the management. They weren't getting their money's worth, they felt. One of the rebels, a floor-manager for Sky TV, was so disaffected he packed his bags and left the course there and then, thus forfeiting his pounds 300 fee.

This was excellent news for me, because I was able to take over his room for the rest of the course. (Until then I had shared a room with a Scots accountant who talked only in his sleep.) Hard lines on the tutor, though, who had recently had a triple heart bypass operation, and was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer of the colon, which had made all his hair fall out, forcing him to wear a wig.

Sadly, the Sky TV floor-manager's angry departure lost some of its drama because he couldn't get out of the carpark until three people could be found to move their cars.

I suppose 16 aspiring writers living cheek by jowl is always going to generate a certain amount of neurotic tension. Some years ago, apparently, there was a poetry-writing course held here, led by the poet Craig Raine. One day, Raine found a dead mole in the garden, brought it into the house and dissected it on the kitchen table in front of his fellow poets. He put the remains on a plate in the fridge, and there it stayed throughout the course.

One of the aspiring young poets took the mole thing badly. Whether the sight, every time he opened the fridge door, of a sliced mole on a plate unhinged him, or whether he was simply a committed anti-vivisectionist, remains unclear; but in the night he got into Raine's room and defecated on him as he slept.

Some have speculated that he might have been making a forthright, nihilistic statement about poets, or even about poetry in general, and if so ought to have been congratulated. But sadly, the man left nothing on paper to confirm or deny any suggestions of this kind.

Bernie from Aintree told us about a course he'd been on with the poet Wendy Cope. On the first night, one student, also called Wendy, went to bed early. As there were gaps between the floorboards, she could hear the others talking downstairs.

Unfortunately Wendy was slightly paranoid, and she couldn't hear exactly what was being said. So, whenever the words "Wendy Cope" drifted up through the floorboards, she assumed she was the subject of the conversation. The burning question of the hour seemed to be: "Can Wendy cope?" It took the rest of them a long time to work out why she'd left in such a hurry, Bernie said.

I moved all my stuff into the room vacated by the Sky TV bloke and made myself at home. Later, when I went out, I locked the door behind me. It was strange how even in the countryside, miles from the nearest village, I was still worried about burglars. When I told Julie from Putney about this, she said she'd heard that the only thing ever stolen from here was the compost heap.

The possibility that there might be people in this world who covet other people's compost heaps was one I hadn't considered before, and it rather shook me. But if local fences were avid for compost heaps rather than laptop computers, I could afford to relax.

One afternoon I was woken by shouting. Josephine from Barbados had locked herself in the bathroom and couldn't get out. Josephine was writing a play and she had given me some useful tips. The first rule of thumb when writing a play, she said, was that speeches should be no longer than your thumb. I'd bear it in mind, I said.

In the end I couldn't get the bathroom window open either, so I kicked the door down. While I was kicking the door down she was screaming, a little. Although I was still half asleep, kicking a door down in the middle of the afternoon, with an attractive young lady yelling on the other side, was very stimulating. Better than writing any day.

Comments