Back to the drawing board: confessions of an absurdly pompous preteen would-be writer

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notebooksSo, when you have this much talent, why confine yourself to average poetry? Turns out I was also a dab hand at prose in my first year at grammar school. Or not, in fact.

Found a notebook of hilarious ‘essays’ from when I was eleven and twelve. There I was, apparently completely misremembering myself as a chronically introverted and unassuming preteen when it turns out I was actually this indescribably pompous, self-important jackass of a would-be ‘writer’.

Luckily I never had the time to produce much because I was so frantically busy, as I stress throughout. I don’t know why or how as I don’t recall doing anything much apart from homework and watching TV at that age. I had zero social life, that’s for sure.  Here are some excerpts, unluckily preserved for posterity, with ‘adult’ comments in square brackets.

My hobby

I have not really a definite hobby. I am interested in lots of things, but not any one in particular. If I had to give one activity as my hobby it would be difficult. [CURIOUS AS TO WHY I DECIDED TO WRITE ABOUT IT THEN.] I used to play a lot of chess at my old school, but I have not played much recently because I have not had the time. I play tennis, and of course, I join in my family’s activities [THERE WERE NEVER ANY FAMILY ACTIVITIES – UNLESS YOU COUNT ATTEMPTED MURDER – SO THIS IS COMPLETE BULL], which combine some parts of hobbies, such as camping. [ALL OF US BAR DAD HATED CAMPING WITH A PASSION THAT BORDERED ON THE UNHINGED.] To get back to my own, individual hobby, I like to write short stories, that is, when I get the time.

This issue of time is something I keep coming back to. As far as I know, no one ever read this but me so I must have just been desperately camping triptrying to convince myself that my exceedingly dull and pedestrian life was interesting and full of engaging activities that prevented me from undertaking any serious hobbies. When in fact I spent an inordinate number of spare hours looking out the window at other folk actually doing stuff.

I mention that ‘Sometimes I go for a day or two without writing at all.’ Other times I failed to complete stories due to ‘lack of time’. And there are some choice passages of nonsense such as

I enjoy to write at my leisure and sometimes I can just sit back and let the words roll off the pen. When I feel like writing, I write. But when I am aware of having to produce a story [OH, THE PRESSURE OF READER DEMAND], I cannot grasp an idea to base an attempt upon. [OR INDEED PHRASE A SENTENCE TO SAVE MY LIFE]

Four and a half tedious and repetitive exercise book pages later, I confess

I like to write, which I suppose is an asset. [FOR ME, MAYBE, BUT NOT FOR THE REST OF MANKIND, AS I’M SURE YOU’LL AGREE] I would not mind a literary career [SHOULD ONE BE THRUST UPON ME] aswell [sic] as a more active one [MAYBE I COULD HAVE BEEN A PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER? NOTHING LIKE SETTING ACHIEVABLE GOALS]. I think I would like to write in my spare time [WHAT SPARE TIME? I HEAR YOU CRY] and keep it as a hobby.

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, here is the conclusion to my heartfelt vindication of ‘My Hobby’, mainly distinguished by the fact that it neglects to reiterate the fact that I had so little time to pursue it:

I may not, from all this practise [sic], write at all interesting stories. Yet I enjoy this as a hobby. I enjoy it because I believe people should have something to do, which they like to do, which they can do individually. [NONE OF THAT NOW]

Anyway as I said before [YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT, AD INFINITUM] you can take out your emotions on the paper, written work which you can look through and laugh at childish behaviour expressed [BECAUSE I’M SO ADULT AND MATURE AT ELEVEN] and so terminate any ill feelings [I THINK MY TOES ARE ACTUALLY CURLING NOW] .

My hobby is my hobby because I enjoy it [SO THERE!] and even if what I produce is total rubbish [NO ARGUMENT WITH THAT] which does no one else any good, it has done me good to write it! As long as I am happy with it and it gives me pleasure, I do not care whether it is total rubbish [JUST AS WELL], it is fun to do.

contents listI’m not sure which of the possible scenarios is sadder – that for fun in my (allegedly extremely limited) spare time, I chose to set myself my own assignments to complete; or that these were actual homework essays I considered worth copying out. How bad could the unselected ones have been?

I was even presumptuous enough to include a (pretty incomplete) Contents list, though as an afterthought on the last page (unorthodox positioning – I obviously hadn’t really got the hang of book structure).

Let me tantalise you with a few tempting morsels.

 

1 A bloody pastime

3 Autumn is upon us

4 New Forest Show

5 Lost!

6 My hobby

8 Spirits that follow, spirits that grasp

Evidently, numeracy wasn’t my strength either, as that is how I’d numbered them.

Apart from those, the book is full of half-begun poems and countless faltering attempts to write Shakespearean sonnets. No end to my hubris – I fancied I could give the bard a run for his money – imagine an eleven-year-old’s idea of archaic language curdled unhappily together with a Grange Hill sensibility. I was almost sure there was one reasonable effort but, if so, it’s not in this book – an example of one first line – ‘Yesterday would I have ransom’d my soul’. I wax on at length about mortality, of which I seem to be deeply conscious (must be the camping trips). Many of the normal poems consist of little more (let’s be thankful for small mercies) than a naffly pretentious title (sounding suspiciously like a David Bowie lyric) and a couple of embarrassing lines. Now, surely everyone must concede that, for the good of mankind, efforts like these should be reconsigned to the shoebox at the back of the shelf? And that we should thank whatever gods there be that I found myself with so little time?

contrition

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA when you challenge him in anything

he turns to you the face of a scolded child

before indignation overcomes him

from the eyebrows down.

when he lies through his teeth

there’s a barefacedness about it

that almost makes you reel,

that almost makes you believe.

he lacks the grace to blush

when that might have been enough.

 

but you melt inside to hear

that laughter like a welcome home,

a retreat into the recent but irredeemable past,

when the way you held each other

was light as you might cradle an injured dove

that flew into your backyard fence one evening,

but ferocious and all-consuming in its tenderness.

 

you remember the days

you wandered off the trail

lost in a complicated argument

of not quite the whole truths

and sheltering in pizza parlour bars

while the rain came down like doomsday

on the tetons, left feeling inconsequential,

as people clutching strange instruments

cluster in around you for a hootenanny.

 

maze of creases on his face

from a crumpled pillowcase

like a map back into his childhood

when his mother might shake

him gently awake for school.

he suddenly seems defenceless

when you rouse him at 3 am

bewildered and plaintive

and you forgive him before

he can even begin to apologise.

 

Photo by Chantal

escapee

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viktorirresolute as a runaway prisoner

unsure who to trust in extremity

a subtly perplexed tension

about his eyes and eyebrows

that stirs sympathy to make

your eyes smart and throat ache.

 

he has the persecuted downward glance

fixed on the boots that march toward him

a muscle in his cheek twitches minutely

as he flinches at orders barked into his face

schools his expression into neutral

and dampens any defiance in his

demeanour into acquiescence.

Image: Ludwig Trepte as Viktor Goldstein in Generation War

accessible

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slightly parted expectant lips

the exact shade of a pink opal fruit

made to make your mouth water.

he flicks his fringe out of his eyes

in an intimate gesture,

leans toward the webcam,

confidentially all yours.

on the other side of the world,

he has skyped himself into your bedroom

a subtle invasion you collude in.

star

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a six-pointed fabric gold starRussland, russische Kriegsgefangene (Juden)

pinned to your chest

you attached it yourself

how could you comprehend

it marked you out for death?

 

like the oversize white Xs

they paint on the trunks

of condemned trees

in suburban streets.

 

a line of numerals

on your forearm

reminds you of the time

you fell into a world of harm:

a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from.

 

your cancelled future may have held a child

with no idea that that school badge of merit

that proud distinction

now coveted and craved

pressed onto the top

righthand corner of the page

once spelt extinction.

 

perhaps he can still remember

the unique and special

taste of the paste

on the tip of his tongue,

as he carefully moistened

its delicate reverse.

he may equate it with success,

a past perfumed with chalk dust,

promise and hopefulness.

 

but you too were once like this,

running in a playground

of levelled light-grey gravel,

invincible and breathless,

a coloured sash across your chest.

unafraid and innocent,

not knowing what it was then

not possible to know.

and now there is no unknowing it.

 

 

 

Image from Wikipedia, Antisemitism

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