In an idle moment with my beloved time-waster, often referred to in polite company as 'my wife' - now a self-styled Emotional Health Specialist by trade, because 'aromatherapist, reflexologist and EFT practitioner' seems far too cumbersome - we explored a key moment of my childhood.
|The hotel today|
It was during the winter of 1961. As a comfortable middle-class family, in the grip of never having it so good and keenly anticipating the benefits of the white heat of technology, we had just moved from a north London suburb to Belfast. We stayed in a small private hotel run by a gruff but good-hearted woman in the same tree-lined avenue in which we would buy our second red-bricked house. My parents were busy hunting our first house and lining up a suitable primary school for my sister, my brother and me. We kids had time to kill and time to get to know the few old ladies who lived there permanently.
One day, I think I might have been reading through one of my beloved cowboy annuals in the lounge, when one of the bespectacled 'old dears' asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her proudly that I wanted to be a book-maker, whereupon the gaggle of old ladies giggled out loud. What was so funny? What was wrong with the idea of making books when I grew up? I expect I smiled awkwardly and they probably tried to explain to me the difference between a book-maker and a bookmaker, and I expect I took refuge in the Wild West of my annual.
|The book-maker and his middle-class family|
So maybe I was too embarrassed to mention it again if anyone else asked me about my ambitions. If I had have done, I doubt whether it would have been encouraged anyway by my parents, who wouldn't have considered it a serious occupation for a young man. Ironically, the sound of a typewriter was key to much of our childhood. Most afternoons, my mother would shut herself away in the parental bedroom and hammer out the pages of novels she wrote about the IRA under a pseudonym, no doubt because she had been persuaded by her parents that the life of an artist was not really the thing for a 'young lady'. The paintings of Belfast street scenes still hang in my parents' current home, but I don't know what became of those painstaking manuscripts. They're probably hidden away in a suitcase under a bed somewhere. Notwithstanding the pseudonym, I doubt if my mother ever sent one to a publisher, because she couldn't bear the anticipated rejection. And so, because parents tend to pass on the messages that they get from their own parents, she encouraged me to become a chartered accountant. Fortunately (and maybe subconsciously deliberately), I was useless at Maths.
So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut jr. (who was perhaps encouraged by senior Vonneguts) would have it. On such seemingly innocent moments as the Incident in a Small Private Hotel, whole careers and destinies hinge. My best-est of best friends, for example, won a poetry prize sponsored by Queens University while still in the 6th form. But he never took his literary ambitions seriously enough to overcome the self-doubt that possibly derived from an unwitting childhood humiliation when he read out one of his creations to his parents. Oh Chollie... Chollie. He coulda bin a contender. He coulda bin the next Wallace Stevens... To use the hyperbole of our American cousins, he coulda bin ossum!
It took me many, many years of bashful avoidance before I plucked up the courage to call myself a writer. Even now, however, I still qualify the term when people ask me to expand on the subject. Well, you know, most of it is writing e-learning to earn a living, which isn't ultimately the kind of writing I want to do... Blah blah blah. Obviously, I don't quite engage with the term 'writer': it doesn't fully describe what I really, really want to do.
Which is why I've decided to go back to that moment in the small hotel (without a wish-ing well...), move on from the unconscious humiliation and re-embrace the term 'book-maker'. It was good enough for a seven-year old, so it's good enough for an adult in search of something a little more inspiring than 'writer/journalist'. And I shouted from the highest hill, I wanna make books!
|Mother and child reunion|
The wonderful thing about EFT - or Emotional Freedom Techniques - is that it doesn't simply re-visit key moments of pain, thereby actually reinforcing them as poor psychotherapy can do, but it allows you to shift the psychological block by repeating phrases that have personal meaning and by tapping on the body's psycho-dynamic energy points (otherwise known as 'meridians'). I know, I know... It all sounds too New Age to be credible. I was sceptical myself, but I've experienced how it can work and how it helped The Daughter through her annus horribilis, her first year at her 'school' far from the nest, how it helped transform the desperate tearful crisis calls into the determination and self-belief that enabled her to come out top of her class. Frankly, it was the sine qua non.
But a technique's only as good as the person who employs it. Which is why I've decided to stop waiting around for the Grauniad to discover me and offer a lucrative contract for a weekly column, and hitch my love of language to my wife's personal wagon and help her explore new territories. Go west, young man!
Which is why I'm going to suspend La Vie En Straw for now and concentrate on my next, proper book: Bloody Murder On The Dog's Meadow (an account of the year of living dangerously during the construction of a straw-built grand design). And produce the EFT Weekly each weekend in partnership with my wife. Because health matters... (and emotional health is surely the key to physical health).
Thank you, gentle readers, for sharing my thoughts over time, coherent and incoherent. And, in the words of Razzo, the wonderful character created by Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, A'm invoytn ya to read our joint production as from next weekend on a web page very near to this cinema.