Wednesday, December 24, 2008



I hope you're not hungry or lonely or sad. Not unloved. I hope you have a loving family, alive or dead. Fond memories. Good health. Some kind of faith in something that helps you get by. Love in your heart. A full belly. A roof over your head. Wood to burn. Freedom from fear. Sunshine in your soul.

These are the luxuries of life.

Above all I hope you believe in a better future and can see a way to make it happen.

I hope so. I really do.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Doing the wrong thing

When a happily married man falls in love with a happily married woman you know there isn't going to be a happy ending. There's always too much collateral damage, shrapnell whizzing everywhere lacerating the innocent parties, to say nothing of the total devastation at the centre, in the heart of the firestorm.

Equally deadly is spending your whole life doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. You will still end up with the smell of rotting corpses, dead souls groaning in the blackness all around you. At the end of the road, your path will be blocked by a towering pile of feeble excuses poised at any second to topple over and come crashing down, crushing you under the weight of their futility.

After the fall all you can do is crawl out from the rubble, dust yourself down, put on some Dylan, crack open another bottle of wine, and get back to writing the book as darkness wraps its bony arms around you.

Don't look up. Don't stop to think. You haven't got time. This is all there is. Even though you may still be doing the wrong thing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hangover Squared

After the party comes the hangover.

In the previous post I described how I met a character in my new novel who proved to be a most welcome guest at the party because he brought with him a whole new plot line. In fact, it was the only plot because he appeared in chapter two when I was well and truly stuck for direction.

Well, I've moved on since then - I'm now at the end of chapter three - and, as usual, the doubts have set in. What seemed such a brilliant idea a couple of weeks ago doesn't seem quite so clever now. Part of the problem I guess is that I'm already anticipating the rejection slips that will - if the past is any guide - inevitably come winging back to me like homing pigeons with bird flu when I finish the book and submit it for publication. I don't care how often it happens, when someone rejects the child you've spawned as flawed and imperfect the result is devastating. What kind of parent would look forward to that day?

Because maybe the child is imperfect. There is no way of knowing at this stage. I'm only three chapters in but even when I finish the book I won't really know if it's any good until other people start reading it. Fortunately, it's perfectly possible to delude yourself for three hundred pages. If you didn't you'd probably never finish the damned thing.

The current problem of self-doubt (which I'm sure all writers with the possible exception of Jeffrey Archer experience) is compounded by the way I write. I am an inveterate re-writer. Every day I go back over the previous few pages and start correcting and changing. If I'm lucky after a session I'll have advanced the book by another couple of pages - or more often paragraphs - or, sometimes, disastrously, I'll have less than when I started.

I know this isn't a very clever way to write. It would make far more sense I'm sure to map out a plot in advance, to do lots of research, become familiar with my characters in my head and then simply crash on until I'd completed the first draft. And then do the revision.

But I just can't work that way. So I wade around in a miasma of self-doubt and uncertainty that inevitably leads to disillusion and despair. What seemed so fresh and amusing a couple of weeks ago now seems stale and unoriginal. I'm already sick of the book and I've only written three chapters.

And yet. Sometimes you can hate the things you love most but if it's true love the antipathy is only temporary. One good paragraph can change everything. Right now though, writing one good sentence is a challenge.

Why do I do this to myself? That's easy. Because there is no alternative. Writing is the only thing I do in my life that makes me feel remotely human. And I guess I wouldn't be human if I didn't occasionally feel miserable at my own shortcomings.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Farting Around

I've spent the last six months or so doing the literary equivalent to farting around as I've struggled to get my next novel off the ground.

When I started the book the only thing I knew was that I wanted it to be humorous, a complete change from by previous novel, the bleak and downbeat A Half Life Of One. I quickly discovered that setting out to make something funny is a bit of a downer in itself. Deliberately creating amusing scenes and sub-Dickensian characters; inventing witty dialogue; while all the while weaving an hilarious plot round this loveable cast of characters turned out to be a pretty depressing business. By the time I'd called myself back after fifteen or so false starts and twenty thousand crap words I was almost suicidal.

After every false start all I was left with was the central character. A misogynist, alcoholic, hapless, feckless, incompetent, selfish, unhappily-married, ageing dreamer. Me, obviously. A subject I know a lot about. And a vague but unlikely plot set in Edinburgh, revolving around the world of publishing. About which I know nothing. I have been to Edinburgh though.

I discovered that I could never get past the second chapter after I introduced the second major character, a young, unpublished aspiring novelist. Each time the old man and the novelist would enter into a conversation designed to move on the plot and each time it would go nowhere. The problem was that I couldn't get into the young man's head and worse, he couldn't get into mine. I was making him up as I went along, trying to lure him into some kind of situation round which I could hang the plot.

I was also trying to make him witty but that was like being at one of those parties when you get stuck with the bore in the corner and try with increasing desperation to liven up the conversation. All you end up doing is getting drunk and falling over. That's what I kept doing in the book, in a literary sense of course.

And so it went on until about a week ago. Then the young man said something I wasn't expecting and the scene took off in a completely unexpected direction. To be honest I was a little annoyed at his presumption. And a little scared. I was no longer in control. I embarked on each new session with increasing circumspection. Some sessions I wrote only a sentence, deliberately pulling the guy back. It was like we were fighting each other. The thing is, there's nothing worse than trailing up a blind allet, particularly if it's a hundred pages long. So a stalemate developed.

And then the other night I had a dream. More like a revelation. I saw the young guy talking and I eavesdropped on his conversation. What he said was so surprising and outrageous that I woke up and burst out laughing.

I was still laughing in the morning. As a result of what the young guy said I've suddenly got a plot. It seems that for once, being a dreamer has worked in my favour. It's not a complete plot by any means but it's enough to get me through the next hundred pages or so. After that, who knows? I'm sure I can trust the young guy to take me somewhere interesting. I'm certainly curious to find out. Excited too. God, I love that young man. He's some character. In fact, I'm sitting here just now chuckling with pleasure at what he's about to do next.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Twice mugged in Rome

It was my sixtieth birthday the other week and my wife took me to Rome as a surprise present. The surprise turned out to be that I had the unexpected pleasure of being mugged twice.

The first time was the result of Gordon Brown's mismanagement of the British economy when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It turns out that his long and gloomy interregnum has caused the stealthy devaluation of the once-mighty Pound Sterling abroad. As a result, in Italy at least, a pound is now worth the equivalent of two mouldy lumps of gnocchi against the Euro, and falling fast. We discovered this when we stopped for lunch at a charming tratoria off the Via Dei Gracchi on the way back from Castel Sant'Angelo. A modest lunch for two of sardines and a bottle of white wine followed by several digestifs cost us nearly eighty pounds. After my wife had picked me up from the piano - where I lay feeling like I'd just been run over by one - it dawned on us that her extravagant birthday present to me was going to be exactly that.

For the next three days we wandered listlessly around Rome cursing Brown and envying the free-spending Romanians, Lithuanians and Poles who seemed to be everywhere having a good time. We survived largely on pizza (although once, feeling light-headed with hunger we indulged in spaghetti alle vongole, a few moments of mad prodigality that left us both unsatisfied and appalled at our reckless gourmandising), while we saved up our budget for one final, decent culinary splurge.

That evening on the way to the restaurant - our final night in Rome - we decided first to visit the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built mostly upon the imposing ruins of the third century Baths of Diocletian. It was on the exit from this enormous building that our second mugging occurred in a manner that was far more professional and slick than any of Gordon Brown's hamfisted attempts to relieve us of our hard-earned cash.

I thought it quaint when - after we had crossed the main transept gawping at the enormous marble pillars - we were suddenly ushered out through a back door in the sacristy by a fag-smoking "caretaker" and found ourselves alone and disoriented in a dusty back alley. "I think it's this way," I muttered when I realised the door back into the church had been slammed shut behind us.

No sooner had we emerged from the alley onto a marginally wider but still deserted road than a car pulled up alongside us. The driver wound down his window and beckoned us. "Where is the main railway station?" he muttered, "Quick, senor, we will miss our train."

I couldn't help even though we'd walked past it a few minutes earlier. I was lost myself. "It's not far but I'm not sure which direction."

"You English?"


"Where from?"


"Aberdeen! My wife's from Aberdeen!"

"Really! What a co-incidence." We beamed at him. There was a guy sitting beside him with his nose buried in a newspaper. They were both wearing sharp suits. They looked like businessmen.

"You know who I am?" asked the driver.


"I'm the boss of Armani. You've heard of Armani haven't you!"

"Of course!" My eyes widened. I was impressed. The boss of Armani was someone rich and famous, wasn't he? A jetsetter. Monaco. Supermodels. Fabulously rich. I'd never met a really rich person before. I wanted to curtsey.

"My friend I have a problem. Will you help me?"

I didn't hesitate. It would be an honour. Besides, who knew where it might lead? No harm having friends amongst the rich and famous. "Of course. What's the problem?"

"I've just been at our annual company sales conference. Five hundred of our top guys. My Bentley wouldn't start so I borrowed this car but it's got no petrol left. Of course I don't carry money just like your Royal Family. I must get to the train station before the petrol runs out. Lend me some money for fuel, will you?"

I looked at my wife. Since the first day in that restaurant I didn't have any money. "Give him some money," I said, "Come on, help the guy."

She hesitated.

"For God's sake. He's the boss of Armani. Don't be stupid."

She looked confused but took out her purse.

"How much you got?" said the boss of Armani, leaning forward to peer into her purse.

She held out a five euro note.

He looked unimpressed. "Give me more!"

She looked at me for guidance. I couldn't believe she was acting so churlishly in front of such a distinguished and wealthy businessman, one of the richest in Europe. "Give him more," I urged her, mortified.

"Here's ten," she said reluctantly.

"More," he demanded, "Give me all."

"I've only got a hundred," she protested.

"For Heaven's sake, give him the money!" I exhorted her.

He reached into the back of the car. "Here, look, it's your lucky day." He held up two leather jackets. "Genuine Gucci."

My eyes widened. Real Gucci. They must be worth a fortune. Wait a minute though, didn't he say Armani? Did they own Gucci too? I couldn't remember. Must be. "Give him the money," I implored. I could already picture the envious looks from our friends when we got back home. Maybe he'd even send us a Christmas present or invite us to one of his holiday homes.

Reluctantly my wife handed over sixty euros.

"These jackets are worth five hundred each! Real leather. Hugo Boss!"

"Give him some more!" I said, appalled at her meaness.

She gave him another fifty euros. The driver looked at her, hesitating. "Okay. Good. Take the damned jackets. See you in Scotland!" He flung the jackets at our feet and drove off at high speed.

We stood there looking at the thin, brown jackets. Even to my unpracticised eyes they looked rather shapeless. "Let's try them on," I said hopefully, fighting my misgivings.

They didn't fit us. They wouldn't have fitted anybody. We stared at each other. Gradually it dawned on me. "We've just been mugged," I said slowly, a sinking feeling developing in the pit of my stomach.

My wife stared at me, her eyes full of resentment. "No," she muttered through gritted teeth, "I'm the one who's been mugged. By three men. And one of them was my husband."

She was right. I was such an idiot. How could I act like that towards my own wife? A stupid, willing collaborator. I felt so ashamed. Even the slap-up meal I bought her later with my credit card couldn't erase the bad taste in either of our mouths.

I left Rome feeling a lot older. Wiser too. But the wisdom came at a high price indeed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On writing when somewhat pissed

I have absolutely no problem with writing the first draft of a novel when I'm squiffy, always provided of course that I can still see - and hit - the keyboard. When I am revising, however, which is most of the time since I need to do plenty of re-writes, I need to be absolutely stone cold sober. I guess that's because it's a totally different process. At the moment of creation drink is the catalyst as I drown in the primordial soup; during the stern revision process when I slice through the silliness and drivel drink is the reward to which I look forward with eyes filled with longing. Naturally this leads to a certain asymmetry in my writing productivity, but if it's a fine full-bodied red that's interrupting the creative process , so what.

On the other hand I'm perfectly content to write - unrevised - entries into my blog after a few glasses of red and I'm usually quite pleased with the result.

Until I read the blog again the next morning, that is. Still, maybe it's better to write something -anything - than drown in wine-filled silence.

I guess I'll find out - somewhat fuzzy-headed - tomorrow.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I've attended a number of smart dinner parties in recent times where the subject of "fisting" has cropped up. Unfortunately, due mainly to advancing years, I've become much harder of hearing of late and though I've tried my best to listen in on the relevant conversations, the gist of them has so far eluded me. As a result I have no idea what fisting actually is, although I have noted that those engaged in discussing it usually have an excited look in their eyes, while the female conversationalists in particular often appear flushed, not to say agitated, during the discourse.

As a consequence of my ignorance you can imagine how delighted I was when I came across this frank, not to say clinical, definition of the practice in a book written by John Seymour. In this instance I should explain that Mr Seymour is actually fisting a sheep. He writes: "Fisting is the forcing of your fist in between skin and the dead sheep."

The book in question is called "The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency" and Mr Seymour is revered as the father of self-sufficiency and is a hero of conservationists everywhere. I was initially attracted to the book by the sub-title: "The classic guide for realists and dreamers". You can guess which category I fall into. The book is basically about living off the land. Planting your own crops, rearing (and butchering as above) your own animals, reducing to zero your carbon footprint.

I'm half way through the book and already I'm determined to live my life in a greener way. Equally importantly, I now feel confident that I can safely introduce the topic of fisting next time I'm dining out with my poshest friends, without any danger of being made to appear foolish. I'm sure they'll be excited and impressed with my authoritative grasp of the subject.

Furthermore, I am confident that the benefits to be derived from the book won't end there. I can't wait to get to the bit about sexual self-sufficiency (on which I already consider myself something of an expert). Hopefully there'll be some sound advice in the book that will tide me over when my wife is next away on one of her many conference trips abroad.

I only hope that the suggested techniques for satisfaction when one is solitary don't also include the excessive use of root vegetables. That really would be taking living off the land a mite too far.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lit Critter

I've just finished writing the first chapter of my new novel - as yet untitled - and it's definitely a bit of a curate's egg, even to my paternal eye.

The good news is that I managed to insert my first joke by the sixth paragraph. That's one more joke than I managed in the whole of A Half Life Of One. Since it's meant to be a humorous novel you can guess how relieved I was to get that hurdle over with.

The bad news really emanates from the fact that (so far) the central character is sixty years old. He makes an unintentional joke about Gogol. Of course if he (or me for that matter because the hero so far is a thinly-disguised version of myself) was younger and more more in tune with contemporary mores he'd be cracking jokes about Google, not Gogol.

When I re-read what I'd written I suddenly realised how old-fashioned I'd become. My only hope is that the humour really is timeless. To make matters worse I began to experience the unmistakeable feeling that what I might be doing is creating a new fiction genre, one that is unlikely to surpass Chick Lit in the Amazon sales rankings.

Grandad lit, anyone?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nail on the head

I'm snowbound at the moment, the single track road leading up to our house is pretty much impassable. Officially, it being Easter, I'm on holiday today but in reality I'm at a loose end. So I stayed in and reviewed my writing career. It didn't take all that long.

A Half Life Of One still attracts readers. Someone called Paula emailed a couple of days ago to say, "Really enjoyed reading the book, found it a fascinating insight into how low a person can sink." Thanks, Paula, for taking the trouble to comment on the book: it means a lot to me. Means everything in fact. God, I love readers.

Then while I was in London the other week someone bought a copy of AHLOO on Amazon. Who on earth could it be and why? I guess I'll never know.

Perhaps I should go to the capital more often because while I was there Scott Pack of Me and My Big Mouth fame gave the book what he describes as a Quick Flick review. I'm not sure if he's actually read the whole book but his description certainly hits the nail on the head. Here's what he said:

"It’s not altogether comfortable reading a novel about a man whose business goes bust. Timely perhaps, but not easy reading at the moment. Bill Liversidge certainly manages to capture all the worry and emotion that comes with the situation and the unnerving way it seeps into other parts of your life.

There is nothing earth-shattering about this book so far, but that isn’t really the point. It is a small, self-published affair but it is a good, solid, no-frills domestic drama told, for once, from the male perspective. However, the Amazon reviews suggest it is all about to kick off if I read any further. It is tantalisingly poised.

The author has an entertaining blog and is doing his best to spread the word about his novel. I would certainly recommend checking out his online activities and if they tickle your fancy then A Half Life Of One may well appeal".

What's interesting here is that Mr Pack used to be the head buyer for Waterstone's and was once described as the most powerful man in British publishing, so he knows what he's talking about. His current venture, The Friday Project, is struggling at the moment so you can see why the book won't have been an easy read for him and why it's so impressive that he took the trouble to give the book some welcome publicity. I hope he survives okay - good people like him deserve a break.

I've said it before but it bears repeating. If it wasn't for the internet AHLOO would now be a yellowing manuscript languishing unread at the back of a drawer somewhere. As it is, it now has a life of its own. A modest life certainly, but hopefully a long one. And in such a dangerous and uncertain world where traditional publishers everywhere are struggling against the onslaught of new technology and general indifference who amongst us could ask for more?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not a journey wasted

I'm still recovering from my trip to London. Not physically but mentally.
Meeting other bloggers - other writers - turned out to be quite a profound experience. I've never met a writer in the flesh before, in literary terms I've lived my life in a vacuum. Sitting in the pub surrounded by a covey of writers and performers I felt a bit like an atheist attending a church service, a rather disreputable interloper. I wished I had their faith in art. I wished I shared their humanity. I returned home more than ever convinced of my own shortcomings, both as a writer and a human being.

A couple of conversations after the performances confirmed what I had already begun to suspect. My new novel - a work in progress called Mummy's Boy - is no good. It doesn't work on any level but in particular the voice - that of a five-to-eleven year old boy - is woefully inauthentic. It's funny, because the book is more or less a straightforward transcription of events that happened to me at that age, events that are still vivid and abiding. That's really the problem of course.

Actually, I'd begun previously to mistrust the book for other reasons. It was in danger of turning into a "misery memoir", a sub-genre I despise. Nor was the writing of it stretching me in any way, other than testing my powers of recall. It didn't feel like a novel at all. It wasn't breaking any new ground. It was, in truth, something of a nostalgic wallow.

I've decided to abandon the book. I'll leave it up on the blog as a potentially interesting failed experiment, an online footnote marking the rubbish bin of my writing ambitions. Naturally I feel pretty gutted but it's not the first blind alley I've ever been down and I don't expect it will be the last.

A week ago, to mark the demise of this work in progress, I went out and bought myself a new laptop, well, a very dinky notebook actually. And then I started work on a new book. This one's meant to be funny and is actually entirely fictitious which must be a good thing in something that purports to be a novel. The trick of it will be to make it serious enough to make the humour work. I'm not sure if I will repeat the experiment of publishing it online as I go. The only reason for doing so would be to get some feedback - but right now I feel like it's best simply to plough my own furrow and see where it takes me.

Oh, the idea for the book came from one of my conversations in the pub with one of the writers. So it certainly wasn't a wasted journey. The very opposite in fact.

It's always nice to meet other writers. Maybe I'll do it again sometime. Perhaps when I've finished the new book and earned my credentials.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Home at last

Finally got back from London last night.

What happened was I missed my train at the appointed time and had to walk. It was a lot further than I thought. Four hundred and three miles from London to Aberdeen apparently, although it felt a lot longer, especially when I got lost in Essex. It took me twenty-four days all told, which isn't too bad considering it was meant to be a three day round trip. The downside is that I wore out two pairs of shoes. And Essex was a real dump. Everything they say about that place is true. Tilbury really was the pits, especially sleeping under that hairpin bridge and getting mugged. East Anglia wasn't too bad though - at least it's flat, which is important when you're walking. Wales wasn't too good either I'm sorry to say - very up and down. Even worse when I realised I was going in the wrong direction. All the road signs are in Welsh, which didn't help.

The lowpoint was when I got chased by a gang of old ladies in Northumberland.

Thankfully, things picked up when I finally got home. It was dark last night when I trudged up the road. I thought there'd be lights on in the old cottage but everything was in darkness. The place was locked up and as I'd had my key stolen in Milton Keynes I had to break in. The kitchen was like a fridge. There was a note on the table from the wife. Not having heard from me for so long she'd taken umbrage and left. That's what happens when you forget to take your mobile phone. We'd been married for thirty-two years so I could understand how she might have wanted a change. The chilli seeds I'd planted before I set out had all come up. The jalapenos looked particularly healthy which really pleased me. Just like the wife the milk in the fridge had gone off.

That's about it really. Nothing of any great significance although I did meet some nice bloggers down in London who I don't expect to see again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Journey into the unknown

Arise in darkness before even the larks are awake. Breakfast on cold porridge without milk (since the old cow died). Bid farewell to my tearful wife who is beyond comforting. To London, in great trepidation, and a divers collection of colonials, poets and internet scribes.

Of which more, God willing, anon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Adventures of Hiram Holliday

In the winter of 1960 after my father died we fled to Scotland. My mother, who suffered from an acute psychiatric condition, couldn't cope on her own and we went to live with her sister in a small farm cottage deep in rural East Lothian where my uncle worked as a farm labourer. I was twelve years old. I left behind all my friends in Tilbury in Essex, the kids in the gang, roller skating on the broad pavements, toyshops, football in the streets at night, going to the pictures on a Saturday matinee, the endless possibilities of life.

In my new home my mum and her sister fought all the time. Literally day and night. For some reason that I couldn't understand I was a cause of much of the friction. As a result I tiptoed round the house on eggshells, never knowing when I would do something wrong. My world had turned cold and grey. I was lost in a barren landscape of ploughed fields and abandoned coal pits.

Fortunately, as well as a few books, we had a black and white television. In autumn of 1960 the BBC started showing the first of twenty-three episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, a comedy imported from the US that NBC had aired several years earlier. Apparently the programme was based on a novel by Paul Gallico but I suspect the adaptation strayed a long way from the original.

The show starred Wally Cox as a weedy, mild-mannered, nerdy-looking proofreader who through years of secret practice had developed James Bond-like skills in activities as diverse as shooting, rock-climbing and scuba-diving. He was also incredibly well read and an expert on all sorts of arcane arts from horse-whispering to memorising Shelley's poetry. Travelling the world at the behest of his employers he pitted his wits against a diverse collection of evil geniuses. He possessed supreme self-confidence that allowed him to face every danger with equanimity and yet he remained touchingly modest. Against overwhelming odds he resolved every crisis. How I longed to be like him!

Hiram was unremittingly cheerful. He loved the world and all its faults. He found joy in everything. His attitude to life gave me hope even though I knew that at the end of each half hour episode the real world would remain as drab and forbidding as ever.

After all this time I thought Hiram had vanished into the ether but I reckoned without Google. Google has obliterated time, brought the past back to life. I met Hiram again the other day, even watched an episode of his adventures on You Tube in grainy black and white as if I was that twelve years old kid again.

All the old memories and emotions came flooding back as if it was yesterday. The pain, the despair, the bitterness and above all the hopelessness that enveloped me as I tried to cope with my mother's illness. She's dead now of course, finally at rest. Wally Cox too is dead, his ashes scattered, rather bizarrely, along with those of his best friend Marlon Brando, in Death Valley.

Thanks to the internet though, Hiram Holliday lives on. A true hero of our time. Or my time at least. Thanks, Hiram, for coming to my rescue too.

If you're interested you can check Hiram out here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Reader Writes

Two nights ago I received a rather perturbing e-mail from one of my blog readers who styles himself "Lurkio". The e-mail - which raises a number of important issues - reads as follows:

"Hi Mr Pundy

I am thinking of visiting the Booklaunch you recently described on your blog in the hope of meeting both you and Mr Ahearn as I too am a failed writer who still aspires to literary greatness despite all the evidence to the contrary. I believe I can draw inspiration from the way you have both refused to accept your lack of talent as a serious hindrance on the road to literary immortality. The problem is, I don't know what either you or Mr Ahearn looks like and I have a dread of approaching other men in strange pubs in case my motives are misconstrued. Please can you help?


Let me say right away - and after a great deal of thought - and despite the moral minefield that surrounds the subject - I determined to tackle the issue of identifying people you have never met head on. Here's the rather courageous reply I sent Mr Lurkio:

"Hi Mr Lurkio

Do not despair. The problem you have described is surprisingly common, even though it is rarely spoken about in public. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Indeed, so common is the affliction that that it's little wonder that the world is full of strangers. I believe this is especially true in London, due in part to the high population density, to say nothing of the widespread occurrence of public houses.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to pre-cognitive stranger recognition, as the illness is more properly known. Freud, in particular, was especially gloomy about the likelihood of finding a reliable palliative since, in his opinion, every stranger presented a different challenge to the cognitee (ie you). Jung, on the other hand felt that certain facial distinguishing strategies were worthy of consideration especially if the target could be fulsomely described.

Your particular case is made more difficult by the fact that I too have not met John Ahearn. However, being a fully-trained (and successful) self-published author I am able to deconstruct John's writing by means of acute textual analysis and reconstruct the resulting signifiers into something which is - I am confident - an accurate word-picture of what the man actually looks like. Here then - based solely upon his published oeuvre - is his description:

1 He is male
2 He is American
3 He speaks largely in Arkansas rhyming slang
4 He is over six feet tall
5 He has a lazy right eye
6 He has a very furrowed brow due to all the agonising he endures trying to find the apposite bon mots for his poems
7 He is bow-legged
8 He has a large white droopy moustache
9 He may or may not be wearing glasses
10 He'll be swilling corn whiskey from a small barrel balanced on his shoulder

If you are still unable to spot him in the crowd from this description look out for a guy wearing a Stetson with a sixgun strapped to his waist standing beside a horse tethered to the bar. This may not be John but he'll likely be an American who will at least buy you a drink.

As far as my own appearance is concerned the problem is altogether different. According to my wife - who I have to admit I haven't seen for some time - I have absolutely no self-awareness. This makes describing myself extremely difficult. To help me I asked my two friends to describe me but the best they could come up with was the following list of adjectives: "humourless", "dull", "mean", "thick", "bitter", "envious", "snobbish", "touchy" (but not feely) and - a little unfairly I thought - "extremely unsociable". Physically, I am six feet tall, balding, multiple-chinned, gap-toothed, short-sighted, hard-of-hearing and I wear a permanently mournful expression on my face.

If all else fails, look for the guy standing alone in the corner. That'll be me. Unless, of course, it's you - seeing your reflection in the mirror next to the Gent's lavatory.

See you there!!!!"

Friday, February 08, 2008

Great encounters in history

Socrates and Plato
Stendhal and Lord Byron
Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens
Rainer Maria Rilke and Rabindranath Tagore
W B Yeats and Christopher Isherwood
Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein
W B Yeats and Ezra Pound
Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Iris Murdoch and John Bayley
Markx and Engels
Marks and Spencers
Burke and Hare
Anthony and Cleopatra
Antony and the Johnsons
George Burns and Gracie Allen
Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham
Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere
Shirley Temple and John Agar
Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley
John Wayne Bobbitt and Loreena Bobbitt
Homer Simpson and Marge Bouvier
The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Roy Rogers and Trigger
Ben and Jerry
Lennon and McCartney (suggested by John Baker)
Robert Allen Zimmerman and Bob Dylan (ditto)
Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler (suggested by Matt)
Cleopatra and Me or John (suggested by the incomparable Minx)
Pooh and Piglet (suggested by Absolute Vanilla, who needs a cuddle)

And finally....

Bill Pundy and John Ahearn.

Be there and watch history happen.