There are those who are born to dabble, and those who are not.
Firmly in the latter category sat my father, who died 28 years ago today. (28 years – bloody hell. 28 years before that the shower scene in Psycho was filmed; 28 years before that, give or take, Al Capone was sent to prison; and 28 years before that the Wright brothers made the first powered flight. Mortality maths is a mug’s game.)
My dad, quite simply, devoted his life to playing the violin extremely well, an endeavour in which he was, to cut a long story short, successful. Here he is playing Mozart.
It takes a lot of time and effort (as well as natural talent, of course, but that’s another, and lengthy story) to do anything that well. It leaves little time for dabbling, and while my father took an interest in many, many things, music and the violin were firmly front and centre from a very early age. And they stayed there.
My own approach has been much more dabblesome. My lack of concentration was a byword among my long-suffering teachers, who often ooh look a blue tit.
Sorry, where was I?
Oh yes. Concentration.
Mr Guilford, charged with cramming Ancient Greek into my terminally unreceptive head, summed it up in one of his reports on my ‘progress’: “I must confess I am baffled. Regardless of cajoling or threats, he refuses to do any work whatsoever.”
He may have understated his case a little.
Mr Guilford died a few years ago, his life no doubt shortened by the stress induced by memories of my inability to understand the aorist tense.
Despite this five-year period of academic inertia, I eventually found something I could do (music – well duh) and made my stuttering way forwards in that world, first at the back of the orchestra and then at the front. If all continues to go well I’ll be in the dress circle by the time I reach retirement age.
It’s at this point that I hijack my own blogpost to blow a tiny toot on a miniature trumpet.
One of my main areas of dabblage has been the threading together of words on screen and page for the entertainment of myself and occasionally others. There have been times when I think “Ooh this is fun. Perhaps I should have made a go of it”, but then I read articles about how little writers earn (even less than musicians, if you can imagine such a thing) and am, on the whole, glad to remain a dabbler.
My problem is that I’m a serial project-starter. I have an idea, write a chunk of it, then get distracted or get to a difficult bit or realise that the project is utter drivel from beginning to end, and it gets abandoned.
But this doesn’t stop me from imagining that one day I will produce That Difficult Second Book. (That Easy First Book remains available here.)
Luckily comedy sketches and short stories are brief enough to break free of this Escher-like process of continually unfulfilled expectations and emerge blinking into the sunlight more or less fully formed. They mostly don’t travel any further than my hard drive, but I derive satisfaction from having completed a job to the best of my ability, like when you do the washing-up and put everything away in cupboards on the same day.
Occasionally my confidence builds up a bit of momentum and impels me to submit something to the scrutiny of others – competitions and such like. My approach to these is not so much one of hope vs expectation – it’s more like certainty vs certainty. I send it off and move on. But just this once something I wrote has got through all the obstacles and has emerged more or less victorious. It’s a sketch, it’s called Meeting God, and it will be presented to an unsuspecting and insomniac public in the last episode of The Show What You Wrote on Radio 4 on December 29th at 11pm.
Have a listen. Or don’t. Up to you.
My dad liked comedy. I remember seeing him laugh so much that he fell, QUITE LITERALLY, off his chair and into the aisle when we went to see Billy Connolly a move, incidentally, replicated almost step-by-step by my son at John Finnemore’s Souvenir Cabin earlier this year – and not surprisingly, for JF is the master of sketch comedy.
My dad, sadly, didn’t live long enough to know about my penchant for writerly dabblage. There are myriad reasons for wishing one’s departed loved ones could return for just a day or so. That sketch is reason enough for today – and, given the chance, I’d make Mr Guilford listen to it and all.
Happy Christmas one and all.