Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cheap and Vulgar and Sort of Childish - EXCLUSIVE

Every year I think I'm going to do one of those virtual advent calendars where I post something new and delightful every day from the 1st to 24th of December. Had I managed to do so this year, the thing behind the first door would have been this. It is a short piece called 'Ambassador Thumb' which I wrote in between The Harbour Beyond the Movie and The Migraine Hotel. I read it at readings a few times and then submitted it to Succour, a magazine for which I was regional editor and was therefore confident, if not certain, of publication. I also talked it over with my most useful and critical friends and they felt it was a bit "trad absurdist", clearly derivative of Gogol ('The Nose'), which is true, and that I wasn't really doing much to make the style my own, an opinion with which I was inclined to agree. And seeing as I'd also brought along a radio play (derivative of Beckett), a full-length novel (derivative of Beckett) and a sinister one-act monologue (derivative of Fraggle Rock) to show-and-tell that week, I didn't have any time to make a case for it.

But a year or so later when I gave a friend a copy of Migraine Hotel, he wrote to me a week later saying, 'Where's Ambassador Thumb?' I told him it didn't really fit with the rest of the pieces in MH and he wrote back to say, "You fucking idiot."

The only surviving version of 'Ambassador Thumb' is in Issue Six of Succour (subtitled 'The Future') and the only copy I have is one that I read from at a school in the South West. Thankfully, just before I went on stage (or "on library" as it so often actually is), I overheard one of the teachers talking about the headmaster (who was to be present) and his attitude to swearing. Apparently he had thrown a writer out by his lapels (licking him squarely in the face with his good, clean tongue all the while) for using the word "bloody" only a couple of months ago. I had a pen with me and made some hasty edits to 'Ambassador Thumb', so I present to you the expurgated version with the following notes as sometimes the crossing out is pretty thorough:

1. For "How very magnanimous of you" read "How fucking magnanimous of you"

2. For "I murmured disconsolately" read "'Fuck you,' I told him"

3. For "Git" read "Bastard" (Not really sure about this one - I think "Git" had recently been used in one of the
Harry Potter films, so I figured it was okay).

4. For "Even the soap operas" read "Even the Adult Channel"

5. For "people's backs" read "flesh against a background of groaning and saxophone music"

A narrow escape, I think you'll agree. I might post something about swearing too much in my writing if I can fit it in with my therapist next week. The manuscript I'm working on at the moment is just lousy with cussing and it sometimes makes me kind of sad. It seems cheap and vulgar and sort of childish. For most poets this is a question that never comes up. They write about soulful, meaningful lovely things, and occasionally, when they're really cross, they maybe drop in the odd light swear, and we're all like, oh boy, he/she must really mean this! But if you spend all your time playing in the gutter with little obscene plasticine figures you made, the whole swearing issue is completely different and nobody understands. For instance, my wife just came in to ask how the marking was going and has found me trying to photograph my own thumb. That would make a good title. I guess all I'm really trying to say is Happy Christmas! And I hope you enjoy!