Monday, June 28, 2004

Chapter 1

Call me Willson. I’m just this bloke but I suppose I’m in charge. I’m the one who was always there. I’m the one who doesn’t act like nothing happened. Here I am, still, trying to write the unrightable wrong, to right the unwriteable wrong. Here I am, trying to move beyond the father-tongue and the mother-tongue, beyond the imagined voice that judges harshly, and the voice that can’t even try to explain.
In front of me is a box of index cards covered in names, numbers and tiny scratchy annotations. Behind me are shelves full of other people’s books. I’ve read first novels by the dozen. Even the ones that come close don’t come close enough. Half of them you could sum up in a sentence; I’m a very special person, allow me to explain. Some people write about the start they had as if aspects of that life aren’t good enough for them. But what if aspects of that life aren’t good enough for anyone? And what if you don’t just want to write about the brainy ones, the horny ones, the funny ones? What if you don’t want to translate everything into the language of escape?
Apparently I’m supposed to set the scene; create a sense of place. So; Portland then, is shaped like some obscure cut of offal. It’s tethered off the Dorset coast just next to the town of Weymouth, where the plague first entered Britain and where Charles III was immersed in the sea as a cure for madness. The islanders refer to the island as the island and the rest of the world as outside. But Portland’s only an almost island, a cross between a peninsula and a cul-de-sac, you get to the end and there’s nowhere to go but back. I’m looking at a map of Portland now. It’s on the wall next to a cartoon where a man’s saying ‘Remember, being an artist is largely a matter of total commitment to an activity which everyone else thinks is a complete waste of time.’
In that first edition of Milk, Milk, Lemonade, Ed wrote that until the Eighteenth Century there was no word in the English language for the concept of boredom. Then, he claimed, some explorers discovered Portland, and everyone agreed such a word was needed. The largest village on the island is Fortuneswell, a grid of narrow terraced boxes, so packed together that it’s impossible to escape the feeling of being overlooked. These boxes are built from the famous local limestone. This stone, the colour of dry dog-shit, is a source of great pride to the islanders. They boast of the fact that St Paul’s Cathedral and other fine buildings are made from it. They miss the point. It’s the architecture that counts, making the out of the ordinary out of the ordinary, the thing chosen out of the thing given.
This place was home to my boys; Danny Sharky the bookmaker’s son, chicken Kev, the sheep of the family. And Christy; precious son of my floundering imagination, floundering son of my precious imagination. This is the place I’ll recreate, in sufficient detail that if in a hundred years time it’s completely destroyed, people will understand why.
Creating a sense of time is another requirement. At the point in question it had been just after the War for over thirty years. Children in primary school playgrounds still sang about Hitler only having one ball.
Punk was happening. Contrary to myth it was nothing to do with having no future, and everything to do with leaning forward into the future, the time when good things would be possible, sometime soon, soonish, sooner or later, later, maybe. Nobody raises their own expectations; someone has to give you a clue. For some people punk was that clue. It was a chance to think about something different, is a chance for me to talk about something different. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We made our own entertainment in those days. Etcetera.
When do I mean exactly? Say from 1976 to, perhaps, the end of 1978 when the whole Pistols thing had turned into a massive punch up between some accountants. Or later maybe. Hard to know where anything begins and ends.
People wax nostalgic about punk now. But I’ve been spared the temptations of nostalgia. What I haven’t been spared is the cause of nostalgia, the view of the flatlands ahead.
Anyway, that’s enough of that sort of stuff to be going on with. Here I am then, old enough to be my own parents, a know it all, know nothing narrator. I’m ready to dive in and make a beginning, so here I go, making stuff up and remembering things.