The activity suggested by today’s title is somewhat contraindicated by proverbial wisdom: though I would have thought this would depend on the nature of both your heroes and the proposed encounter.
I don’t think that I have “heroes” in the traditional sense – whilst I clearly aspire to be other than I am, this is a yearning for a generic other rather than to acquire aspects of a specific other. This may be down to a failure of imagination (a theory that GofaDM readers will find it easy to accept) or perhaps an acceptance of my lack of potential. It also reflects my understanding (one which seems wholly absent from the media) that being heroic in one aspect of life does not (and probably can not) mean heroic in all: even if we could agree what that might mean. To the extent I have heroes, they are also drawn from a slightly different pool than is probably typical: usually academics and writers, rather than the more typical celebrity aspirational targets.
In a desperate effort to keep the conceit of this post alive I will admit that there are many people who evince abilities that I find impressive (and often, frankly, magical). In very local news, the latest follower of this blog (who would seem either to have some recent Greek heritage or be a major Hellenophile unafraid to use a Deed Poll) is a far better writer than I will ever be: his angry, funny tale of a painful coat-carrying incident does lead me to wonder why he is following this rubbish. Still, GofaDM will offer refuge to any comers (whatever my views on their sanity): an idealised Ellis Island of the web (if you like).
Last week, I was uncharacteristically excited about the chance to meet someone (relatively) famous – and so was clearly setting myself up for disappointment (which to destroy any narrative tension, did not occur). I have been a fan of A L Kennedy since hearing her on the much maligned Quote, Unquote many years ago. It can’t remember what it was that drew me to her then, though the Dundee accent may well have been involved. However, her reputation in my eyes has been cemented by her performances on A Point of View – which are incredibly well-written and read. Usually, I cook (or do some other physical activity) while listening to spoken-word podcasts, but with A L Kennedy I have to concentrate fully on the words. I think she may be my favourite contributor to the strand – and this is against a very strong field. I’ve only read one of her volumes of short stories, which may have been a little too adult for me (and not in terms of an 18 rating) – but which were amazingly well written.
Anyway, the Nuffield offered a chance to see her live (long “i”, though she did also manage the short “i” version) as part of their Writers in Conversation series and so off I cycled through the drizzle to meet an almost hero. As so often with the famous, Alison is much smaller in person than she seems on the radio – but less commonly, even lovelier. She read a chunk from her latest volume, All the Rage (which as a result I now own, but have yet to read and really want the voice in my head to attempt the A L Kennedy delivery when I do) and then we had an hour’s Q&A session. This was really fascinating – even to a lousy writer like me. Given that even in my most serious writing phase (preparing my well-regarded Open University assignments) I used only three (major) drafts, the fact that every page of her books will have gone through more than 100 drafts indicated a whole different level of commitment to the result (and one which will not be applied to GofaDM any time soon!). In answering my(!) question, she mentioned that aPoV is in the old Alistair Cooke slot and what an honour it was to be asked to fill it. She mentioned a particular Letter from America dating to the first performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – and as a result, I have had to buy a book of his (Cooke’s) writings. Oscar Wilde may have been able to resist everything except temptation but while I’m generally less easily led into temptation, when it comes to books (in the words of the Borg) resistance is futile.
I am always pleasantly surprised by how much fun one can have for a fiver (or less) at the Nuffield – and elsewhere, for that matter: last week I also saw both Joe Lycett and Stuart Goldsmith do an hour of work-in-progress stand-up (though Mr Goldsmith in particular seemed to have little need for further progress) for the same modest sum at the Pleasance in Islington. The downside (for me) is after these cheap events I then feel the need to blow many times the cost of entry on (often quite tangentially) related books (or supporting the institution so it can continue to offer such loss-leaders).
This talk of heroes led me to wonder if anyone considers the author in this context. I would certainly hope not, I live with the fool and can assure you there is nothing heroic about him. However, I did discover yesterday that an employee of a local tyre company (who had apparently witnessed some of my physical jerks) refers to me as “the silver fox” – not an epithet I have ever aspired to, but I think it was meant as a compliment. I suppose he could just be referring to the fact that I am going grey and am often to be found going through other people’s bins – but I’m going to cling to a more positive interpretation.