This time last year there were long gaps between my blog posts but I had an excuse – I was having a piece of pig put in my heart. This year, the reason is busy-ness, a busy-ness that’s prevented me settling down to a ‘normal’ blog entry and produced this instead.
My spurious justification for it is that I’ve been asked to adjudicate the general article competition at next year’s conference of the Scottish Association of Writers. It’s a real honour and it’s been interesting thinking about what constitutes a ‘good’ article. And ‘thinking about’ writing, rather than just doing it, is always fruitful. When I first became a Writing Fellow at Dundee University, again it was an honour but, in order to do the job properly, I had, for the first time really, to step back from writing and think about how I did it, what sort of ‘rules’ I followed, if any, how I structured things, chose and manipulated words and so on. It was all very instructive and one thing I realised was that, as a writer, I tend to be more reactive than proactive (horrible word). Give me a theme, a title, a specific stimulus and I can usually produce a few hundred words on it.
All of which is a prelude to something which may make you question my sanity because it’s an example of my reactive writing which I found in a box of stuff this week. I won’t give you the whole background to it but, basically, I remember it arose from a conversation I had years ago with one of my grandchildren who lives in Brighton and what triggered it was the word ‘centipede’. Where the rest came from I have no idea. This is it.
A centipede was wandering through the centre of Brighton, looking at the names on the shopfronts as he passed them. Lots of people, when they saw him coming, crossed over to the other side because this was no ordinary centipede. He was enormous. 7 metres long with thighs fat enough to squash a double decker bus. His name was Gerald.
None of the names on the shop fronts had what he was looking for so, in the end, he went up to a policeman who was standing in the doorway of M&S eating a cheeseburger.
‘Scuse me,’ he said.
‘Yeah, what d’you want, Fatty?’ said the policeman.
Gerald looked at him, saw the grease running down his chin and dripping onto his uniform and thought he was a fine one to talk about being fat. But Gerald’s mother had taught him to be polite so he just said, ‘Can you help me please? I’m looking for a counsellor.’
‘What sort of counsellor?’ said the policeman.
Bits of cheese sprayed over Gerald as he spoke.
‘One that gives advice, helps people,’ said Gerald.
The policeman pointed down the street. ‘First left, three doors along. Dr Zang,’ he said.
‘Thanks,’ said Gerald, and he began to walk away.
‘Oi, Fatty,’ shouted the policeman.
Gerald stopped and turned.
‘You a caterpillar?’ asked the policeman.
‘No, a centipede,’ said Gerald.
‘Thought so,’ said the policeman.
Gerald turned left at the corner and walked along until he saw a brass plaque beside a posh-looking doorway. It said ‘Dr X Zang, Psychiatrist, Counsellor and Baby-sitter. Lowest prices in Brighton. Special deals available on Lego sets.’
Gerald rang the doorbell and went in. A receptionist was sitting at a desk. A label on her lapel told Gerald her name was Diaphanous.
‘What d’you want?’ she said.
‘I was wondering if I could see Dr Zang,’ said Gerald.
‘No,’ said Diaphanous. ‘Go away.’
Gerald was just turning to go when he heard a squeaky voice calling.
‘Who’s that, Diaphanous?’ it said.
‘Some fat centipede,’ said Diaphanous. ‘Wants an appointment.’
‘OK, send him in,’ squeaked the voice.
‘Through there, Fatty,’ said Diaphanous, pointing to a door. ‘And wipe your feet first.’
With fifty pairs of legs, that took Gerald quite a while but at last he walked through into the room and saw a tall thin man wearing an enormous pair of glasses.
‘Good morning. Have a seat. What can I do for you?’ he said.
Gerald sat down on a couch.
‘I need help,’ he said.
‘What sort of help?’ said Dr Zang.
‘Well, don’t laugh but … ‘
He stopped, uncertain of how to explain it all.
‘Don’t be shy,’ said Dr Zang. ‘You can trust me. I sell Lego.’
‘Well,’ said Gerald, ‘every so often, I get this terrible hunger and … well, it makes me want to eat the sun.’
The story continues for another couple of hundred words but its resolution centres on flatulence and the punch line is a prescription for baked beans. It does, though, provoke a question. Would you invite the person who wrote this to adjudicate a competition on articles?