andrewgodsell

Tales from an author

Archive for the tag “Stories”

Writing Week 2 #Asperger #OCD #Orwell

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Hello again, here I am with the second instalment of the planned series of Blog posts about being Asperger, and my writing. There is not a great deal of progress to report, as I have been feeling unwell since posting here last week.

I managed to upload a video on YouTube, in which I talk about the new book, and give a short reading. So far it has received a grand total of 23 viewings, plus a few complimentary comments on Twitter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_FrD-Wi5YQ

The second chapter of Obsessive Compulsive Asperger explains my enthusiasm for Story-Telling. Here are a few paragraphs:

“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”. This advice was given by a King to a White Rabbit, during a bizarre trial, staged near the conclusion of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (published in 1865). There is a lot to be said for starting stories other than at the beginning – I often begin in the middle, hop backwards to the opening, and meander through several digressions, before reaching something like an ending. The curious world of Wonderland has been an unlikely influence on my story-telling, as an imaginary counterpoint to the facts I normally rely upon. Following this short diversion, it is time to mention I have been fascinated by stories for almost as long as I can remember. Good stories entertain and inspire us, often providing vital insights into people’s lives. Stories can be fact or fiction – and sometimes a hybrid.

In my youth, I planned to develop the enthusiasm for books, by becoming a writer. I started to read the works of George Orwell, who remains my favourite author, due to his profound ideas, expressed in a conversational prose style. Besides books published in his lifetime, I enjoyed The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, a posthumously-compiled four volume set. The series opened with Why I Write, an essay from 1946, in which Orwell gave a summary of his literary career. Orwell argued that writers are motivated by four factors, the first of these being “sheer egoism”, caused by a wish to be recognised as a clever person. Next came “aesthetic enthusiasm”, which could follow from appreciation of external beauty, the taking of pleasure in the usage of words, and a wish to share experience. The third factor was “historical impulse”, with an author finding facts to be used for posterity. Orwell’s final motive was “political purpose”, with writers seeking to be an influence on people’s ideas about the direction of their society.

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What is my motivation as a writer? I think – we cannot always be certain about motives – that the central factor is a wish for communication. I feel a need to connect my enthusiasms, ideas, and knowledge with those of fellow human beings – often the effects of Asperger Syndrome make it more comfortable to do this through writing compared with other interaction. I also seek to give permanent record to experiences, many of which would otherwise be forgotten – probably a manifestation of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Enjoyment in the creation of a piece of writing is followed by a sense of satisfaction when it is published, read by others, and discussed. From the preceding sentences, it appears the second and third of Orwell’s themes are predominant for me. I must confess that ego plays a big (too big?) part, while politics has often been a feature of my writing. My books may appear diverse in nature – spanning history, politics, football, autobiography, and fiction – but they form part of a logical progression, as writing is interweaved with other activities. The books and experiences are twin facets of the developing story of my life, with personal activity placed in a wider context (I could say “the bigger picture”).

I have developed a role as something of a raconteur, offering funny (sometimes slightly exaggerated) tales of my experiences. Stories are told, in animated fashion, at social gatherings, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, although audience participation (or even heckling) often proves a more effective stimulant. I have a love of trivia, and thirst for knowledge, taking delight at links between odd scraps of information. Interesting turns of phrase are often adapted to new purposes in my writing. I also make (I think) good use of irony.

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#GeorgeOrwell, Memories of 1984, and #Aspergers

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After a break of a few days, during which I have been feeling anxious and unwell, I return to this Blog.

I have decided to post another chapter of my new book, Obsessive Compulsive Asperger, looking back at events in the years surrounding 1984.

Much has changed since then but, more than 30 years later, a lot of the interests I had as a young adult feel familiar.

George Orwell, a man who probably stuggled with Asperger’s, remains my favourite author. His warnings about the dangers of totalitarianism lurking in our dubiously democratic society are as relevant as ever.

Despite the scepticism of many people, I have remained interested in politics, and (just about, in view of this years purge) a member of the Labour Party, intent on tackling the Tories.

So here are my memories, in a chapter entitled The Lion and the Unicorn.

In the Summer of 1981, our family went on holiday to Newquay, in Cornwall. This was not particularly enjoyable, as we stayed at a poorly-managed hotel (worse than the establishment in Fawlty Towers, but not funny), with most of the staff departing during the course of our fortnight there. A few weeks after I left school, a results slip showed I had passed six “O” levels. Failures in English Literature and Computer Studies did not prevent me subsequently writing books with the aid of computers. I became a student at Farnborough Sixth Form College in September 1981, studying for “A” levels.  I also played for the college chess team, participating in a local league and national knock-out competition, the latter sponsored by the Sunday Times.

Excitement on sitting down to watch England’s first match in the 1982 World Cup finals, against France, live on television, grew as Bryan Robson opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. England beat France 3-1, but goalless draws in the second stage, with West Germany and Spain – the latter being the host nation – meant England were eliminated, despite being unbeaten in the tournament. West Germany later reached the Final, where they lost 3-1 against Italy. During August I saw Manchester United win 3-1 at Aldershot, in a match that raised money for victims of the Falklands War. Following this I visited Spain, as we had our first foreign family holiday, the location being Lloret de Mar, near Barcelona. We stayed in a large hotel, which was impressive, apart from unpalatable food. A year later I went on an extended family holiday for the last time, at the village of Cala Bona in Majorca.

I reached the age of 18 at the end of 1982, and made plans for the future. I decided against going to university, having spent enough years in formal education. A growing interest in politics was strengthened by frequent discussion at college. As a member of the debating society, I made a speech advocating that Britain should withdraw from the European Economic Community. A college assembly attempted to follow the format of the BBC’s Question Time programme, with myself on the panel, providing a critical view of the Thatcher government’s approach to unemployment. Thatcher proclaimed herself a “convic­tion politician”, opposed to consensus. Her major preoccupation was an attempt to revive British capitalism, through monetarism. Thatcher’s policies proved a calamity for Britain, with reduced public expenditure, reduced taxation (especially for the ruling class), an attack on the trade unions, and the sale of public assets. When Thatcher took power, more than a million people were unemployed. The number of unemployed people increased to two million in August 1980, and three million in January 1982.

I read lots of the works of George Orwell, and was particularly impressed by The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius plus Nineteen Eighty-Fourfact and fiction respectively. The latter book is a brilliant warning about the dangers of totalitarianism, and a satire on the politics of the era in which it was written. In the character of Winston Smith, who starts to write a diary on April 4 1984, Orwell conveyed the outlook of an individual battling to express a minority view – “sanity is not statistical”. During the Spring of 1983, I read the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital, one hundred years after his death. I felt the influence of Marxism as an approach to politics, economics, and history, being persuaded by Marx’s critique of capitalism, which is shown to be exploitative, and prone to recurring crisis. Capital ranks as a monumental piece of world literature, full of illuminating quotes and allusions.

In May 1983 I voted for the first time, supporting the Labour Party in a Hart District Council Election – Hart covered Fleet and surrounding villages, including Hartley Wintney. The following month, I voted for Labour at a General Election, and felt demoralised as Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were returned to power, with a majority of 144. Shortly after the General Election, I made the first in a series of visits to the House of Commons, observing proceedings from the visitors’ gallery. On that first visit, I saw Edwina Currie, a newly-elected Conservative MP, make her maiden speech. Edwina was immediately followed by Harriet Harman, feted as Labour’s most glamorous woman MP, who won a By-Election a few months earlier. I was joined by granddad on one trip to Westminster, during which we saw Margaret Thatcher at Prime Minister’s questions.

I passed three “A” levels, but was unemployed for several months after leaving college. Then I was offered a job by the London branch of Dresdner Bank, based at Frankfurt, in West Germany. Employment with Dresdner, as part of their audit department, began on December 28 1983. The bank was situated at Frederick’s Place, a cul-de-sac adjoining Old Jewry, just off Cheapside, in the City of London. The building was a wonderful labyrinth – I initially worked in a mezzanine office, tucked away in a corner, at a tangent from a staircase linking the ground floor with the first floor. Benjamin Disraeli worked in the building as a youth, a fact commemorated by one of those distinguished blue plaques on an exterior wall. During his employment with a solicitor, Disraeli was told by a female friend “You have too much genius for Frederick’s Place: it will never do”. Indeed it did not, and the young man set out on a series of adventures.

I started writing a detailed diary on January 1 1984. This opened with a combination of activities and opinions, linked to interest in politics, and the works of George Orwell – themes destined to recur down the years:

I begin this diary on the evening of the first day of 1984. The year is one that has long been awaited in connection with George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. As expected, the general view of the connection as put across by the media has been distortion – or at least misunderstanding – of Orwell’s views. It is being asserted that the book is prediction and wrong, when in fact it is both a clever satire and a useful warning. I hope that if anything is to come from the connection of the book and the present year, it will be increased understanding of Orwell’s views. Given the current state of the media in this country, I believe the myths surrounding the book will largely remain. The book opens with Winston Smith beginning a diary.

I decided a few months back to keep a diary, to provide a record of my thoughts and actions, which I could then refer to at future dates. Besides simple nostalgic sentiment, such reference has intellectual value. George Orwell, in his As I Please column, in the issue of Tribune dated December 17 1943, wrote “One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary”. In the March 22 1946 issue of the same newspaper, Orwell’s In Front of Your Nose was published. In this essay Orwell advised that keeping a diary, or record of one’s views on events, was of value. If this was not done it is possible that “when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it”. I propose to record in this diary a regular account of my activities and also my opinions, hopes, fears, predictions etc. When these are set down to be read, and re-read, it will not be possible for me to believe that opinions I held once, but then wished I had not, were not held in the first place. In this of all years I believe that to be valuable. I saw the New Year in with a Channel 4 programme hosted by David Frost. Ken Livingstone predicted that this year might be a bit worse than last or a lot worse. I expect the former myself, but am optimistic about the long term.

When starting to write the diary, I wondered whether it might be published one day, far in the future. By a convoluted process, some of which happened in 2007, extracts from my diary have now found their way into this book.

Dresdner provided a contrast to the efficient image of both banking and the Germans. There was disorganisation, plus strange procedures, but a generally informal atmosphere, and working at the bank was entertaining. At the start of my time as something in the City, I lacked confidence, but chat about football with the blokes, and readiness to be teased by the women, helped break the ice with colleagues. My anxieties in the working environment continue to this day.

I joined the Labour Party in September 1984. I had been born in a National Health Service hospital, and educated in a comprehensive school, while I believed in democratic Socialism, equality, free trade unionism, internationalism, and Britain playing a positive role in the world. These factors made me a natural supporter of the Labour Party. That Autumn I took a holiday in Yugoslavia, staying at the village of Porec, in Croatia. I was attracted to Yugoslavia by a combination of excellent climate and innovative Socialism, based on industrial democracy, decentralised power, and non-alignment – but unfortunately not parliamentary democracy. The weather was rainy, but I enjoyed my visit, and the drinking of Slivovitz, the local plum brandy. Back in Britain, I attended a couple of Labour Party meetings, staged at Farnborough, which focussed on the national strike by coal miners. Each meeting featured a speech by a Labour MP, the first of these being Dave Nellist (member of Militant). The latter meeting was addressed by Dennis Skinner (legendary “Beast of Bolsover”), a former miner, and impassioned critic of the “casino economy”. Dresdner Bank was conveniently situated for visits to Parliament, which I often made after work. One trip to the House of Commons in 1984 was followed by a letter to Bernard Wetherill, the Speaker, asking about the public availability of amendment papers for Parliamentary debates, to which I received an encouraging reply. At the start of the next year, Timothy Wood, a Conservative MP, handed me a copy of a Local Government Bill, as a Commons committee debating the legislation adjourned for dinner. There is no such thing as a free bill, however, for I had already bought a personal copy – besides financing it as a taxpayer.

On October 17 1984, I attended my first World Cup match, as England commenced their campaign in the 1986 qualifiers, beating Finland 5-0, with Mark Hateley scoring twice. I talked with two pretty Finnish young ladies, working in Britain as au pairs, who sat behind me in the stadium. Afterwards, travelling by tube train from Wembley to Waterloo, I found myself sat next to another lady from Finland, and enjoyed a chat with her, which stimulated laughter, and suggestive comments, from several other passengers. Mentioning my encounter with her fellow nationals, I asked the lady if she was an au pair. This flirtatious Finn announced she was a nanny, who thought it would soon be time for me, as a naughty boy, to go to bed. (Dot dot dot? Actually nothing more to report).

The 1984 Dresdner Christ­mas party was held at the Churchill Hotel. Several people did party pieces, and I sang John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over), oblivious of the possibility the Germans might not like this. For Christmas our family visited mum’s parents at Salisbury. We had a great Christmas, dividing our time between eating, drinking, and watching television at home, and visits to the local Conservative club – some of the family were members, and I did not wish to spoil Christmas with a boycott. Granddad was a staunch Conservative so our political ideas had little in common, but we enjoyed discussing them. Sadly I never saw my grandfather again, as he died suddenly from a heart attack on May 5 1985. This was a traumatic event for his family. Granddad was a wonderful man, and I was to miss him in the following years.

In March 1985, at Wembley, I attended the Final of the Milk Cup – the name at that time of the League Cup – in which Norwich City beat Sunderland 1-0, with a fine performance from Steve Bruce, in defence. Earlier in the season, I had half-seen Norwich win 4-0 at Aldershot, in a Third Round replay, amidst very thick November fog. Mick Channon, in the twilight of his career, was among the goalscorers that day. I returned to Wembley on May 18 1985, hoping to buy a ticket for the FA Cup Final, in which Manchester United met Everton. I negotiated purchase of a ticket from two officials of the Surrey branch of the Football Association. Prior to the match, an emotional minutes silence was observed in memory of the fans who died in the fire at Bradford City’s ground the previous week. During the first half both teams failed to produce impressive football. Play improved as the second half progressed, but the game remained goalless. Twelve minutes from time, United’s Kevin Moran became the first player ever to be sent off in an FA Cup Final. The continued absence of a goal meant that the match went into extra time. With 10 minutes remaining, United’s Norman Whiteside charged with the ball through the Everton half, and into the penalty area, scoring with a curling shot. As the ball hit the net, I erupted with joy. Man­chester United held on to the lead during the closing minutes. When the final whistle arrived, I again celebrated wildly. A few minutes later, Bryan Robson lifted the trophy.

Another great Wembley occasion followed on July 6, with a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I arrived early, and managed to get a place near the front. For hour after hour, I stood in the crowd on a very hot day. It was uncomfortable, but totally worthwhile, as I got a great view. Bruce displayed amazing energy, and built a rapport with the fans, while his band provided tremendous support. The show began with Born in the USA, and continued with a succession of fine songs before Bruce took a break, following Thunder Road. The second set included a stunning rendition of Because the Night.  The encores ended with a lengthy medley of Twist and Shout / Do You Love Me. Bruce had been on stage for just over three hours, with a performance that was almost unbelievably brilliant – witnessing it was an inspiring experience.

During August, I returned to Yugoslavia, staying at Ulcinj, in Montenegro, a few miles from the border with Albania, the most isolated country in Europe. On a tour of the area, I saw part of the border between Yugoslavia and Albania, marked by a line of trees, viewed from a distant vantage point on a hillside – an eerie moment. In the Autumn, I went to Dresdner Bank’s belated Summer party, at the Savoy Hotel, and felt a bit uncomfortable in the luxurious surroundings. A man in attendance in the toilets commented on my not wearing a jacket. When I asked why this was worth mentioning, the man said he assumed my wallet was in the jacket pocket, and I could have given him a tip. I could have observed that it might cost a lot to spend a penny.

 

 

How Does an Author Promote Their Book?

15 cover 2014

 

I have recently published my first novel. This is something I have wanted to do for many years. Part of the reason for delay is that I have been busy writing factual books, one of which is entitled Fifteen Minutes of Fame. The title is ironic, as obscurity has outweighed any limited fame in the life, and writing career, chronicled in that book. The title of this Blog piece deliberately ends with a question mark. I am not so much offering advice on how to promote a book, as asking myself, and anybody reading this, how is it done?

Belief in the quality of my writing has always been dwarfed by a lack of confidence in promoting the books, and myself. I think a lot of this is due to my struggling with Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD. Here is a link to something I wrote a few months ago about how these things affect me. It was one of my more popular posts on this Blog – with two people commenting on it.

https://andrewgodsell.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/aspergers-syndrome-and-obsessive-compulsive-disorder/

In the case of my novel, there is the complicating factor of my not even being sure that publishing it, without a pseudonym, is a good idea. It is my first foray in the world of….(dare I say it?)….erotica. The whole book is not erotica. There is a lot of gentle comedy, updating the tales in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books to the present day. There may even be aspirations to literary fiction. Most people, this generally includes myself, do not talk openly about their sexuality, but people are equally fascinated by the concept. I ask myself, will the book be welcomed as an interesting piece of work? Will the “oddball” nature of my novel cause people to take my other writing less seriously? Or will it be largely ignored? At present I have lacked the confidence to explicitly tell family and friends, who know I have been writing the book, the direction in which it has gone. Indeed, in the real world, I have not even told people that it was published as an Ebook on Amazon Kindle a few months ago. If the book takes off in any way, I plan to publish a paperback version, with some pictures. Moving away from the real world, the book is starting to have a small presence in Cyberspace, with some people buying it on Kindle, and extracts recently placed on this Blog receiving some “likes”. Over on Twitter, a friend who spotted the book was surprised to say the least, their response being:

Blimey! #notfortheeasilyshocked #Isurvived

https://twitter.com/mayyourhope/status/754345471963901952

Much of my output has been self-published, but a couple of books have been issued by mainstream publishers. Both of these were books of football history which, after an encouraging start, lost some impact as they became out of date. In the first case, the publisher went bankrupt, while in the second the book was quietly allowed to fade away. Like many writers, I have the ongoing difficulty of getting a publisher without having a literary agent, while attempts to get a literary agent are stalled by my relative lack of prior success getting a publisher!.

It is often said that many writers have a large ego about their writing, combined with a lack confidence about promoting themselves. The outlook of the muddled creator of a piece of art has been likened, by various people, to famous lines from W B Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

The anxiety I have always felt, due to my mental health issues, has made dealing with publishers on a personal level difficult. Similarly I have attempted to sell my books in person at book fairs, but lacked the confidence to make much of this. I am good at writing and emailing press releases, but terrible at following up with telephone calls to real life journalists. More than 30 years after I started writing books, I am often overwhelmed by a feeling that it will be difficult to be a major success. Should I continue to follow my big dream? Should I settle for the limited level of literary success I have been able to enjoy? In an attempt to prompt myself to be more active, I am writing this short piece, with the intention of updating it as things progress.

I hope to return later with more to report.

Alice’s Adventures in Erotica

Dear Reader

I have published several books, and enjoyed a bit of success, but this is my first venture into a world of erotica. This book is a bit different, just like my eccentric personality. Most of it is a fantasy from Wonderland. Some of it stems from fantasies about the real world. There are even curious bits extended from real events. I like to put my finger on things – and find the right spot. I hope you have fun scrolling down (and up and down) on your Kindle. I have taken pleasure in writing this story, and hope that you will find it a stimulating read.

Best wishes

Alice cover 5

 

 

The above is my introduction to my first novel, published as an Ebook on Amazon Kindle. After much hesitation, I have decided to publish this piece of erotica with my own name, rather than a pseudonym. It should stand or fall with a real name behind it – a bit like my Twitter account! Besides erotica, there is an attempt at literary fiction. Here is an extract – from one of the tamer parts of the book.

“An enchanted garden, and a golden afternoon” Alice declared. Alice was sitting in the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever, a National Trust stately home, with her friend Sadie. The house, situated at Lyndhurst, a quaint village (or was it a town?) in the New Forest, retained the decor of the late 1960s, when it had been owned by a wealthy hippie, Mean Mr Mustard, and his sister, Polythene Pam. Alice and Sadie had just eaten lunch, each having chicken salad followed by strawberries and cream, washed down with quite a bit of wine. Alice checked the incoming texts on her mobile phone, replied to those requiring a reply, updated her Facebook status, and skimmed through the latest happenings, plus thoughts from dozens of people, on Twitter. This brought her up to date, if only for a moment, in the ever-moving world of mobile communication. Putting these things aside, Alice sat in the sun with Sadie, enjoying a rare moment of carefree relaxation. Sadie mentioned something about the surroundings. The grass was green, the leaves on the trees swayed in a breeze, and the sky was blue. Sadie started to read The Diary of a Nobody, by the Grossmith brothers, a delightful Victorian novel, brought to life with lots of hand-drawn illustrations. Sadie was looking for inspiration, as she hoped to become a paperback writer.

Alice plugged herself in to her IPod, and listened to songs by the Beatles – including a lot of tracks from Love, the surreal remix and mashup album. Towards the end of the glorious 80 second edit of Glass Onion, Alice closed her eyes, saying she was “resting” them, and dozed. Entering the place where wakefulness drifts into sleep, when in bed at night, Alice often experienced something she called a “mini-dream,” a dream of just a few seconds, from which she would exit, briefly awaking, before falling properly asleep – her “golden slumbers.” Alice had a “mini-dream” about eating giant strawberries, and told the detail to Sadie, who seemed unimpressed.

Alice drifted on to the image of a White Rabbit, seen wandering the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever. The Rabbit seemed almost human, as it was wearing clothes, and muttering something to itself about the passage of time. The Rabbit even took a watch from a jacket pocket, and announced the time as “fifteen minutes,” without specifying any relationship to an hour of the clock.

Intrigued by this, Alice wandered towards the Rabbit, which hopped through a gap in a hedge. Alice noticed a group of four beetles, as she continued to pursue the Rabbit, which jumped into a narrow tunnel. In a moment of spontaneity, Alice squeezed into the tunnel, and felt herself to be moving at great speed. The strange thing was that she was not falling downwards, instead she was being sent in a roughly horizontal direction, apparently by some unseen wind or other power, through an ever-twisting tunnel. Alice felt a mixture of fear and exhilaration, as if on a rollercoaster ride, and wondered where she might arrive. Perhaps the other side of the world, or was this a route across the universe into another dimension? How long would the ride take? The answer to the latter question came just a couple of minutes after entry to the tunnel. All of a sudden, the helter skelter journey stopped, as the tunnel reached a fork, and the power pushing Alice forward stopped. Alice took the left prong of the fork, having seen the Rabbit do this. Passing a sign advising that this was Penny Lane, Alice walked along a wide, empty, corridor, and found herself to be alone. Where had the Rabbit gone to? Where was Alice? Was this a place far away from the lonely people?

In a dash to follow the Rabbit, Alice had left her handbag, with her mobile phone and money in it, by the chair in the garden of Strawberry Fields Forever. In any case, she did not know where she was, and whether her phone and money would be of any use in this new place. More importantly, how could she get back to where she had been? “Help!” Alice whispered to herself. As she walked what appeared to be a long and winding road, Alice was reduced to tears.

Alice walked further along the corridor. Having seen a table in the distance, Alice walked towards this, and found a small golden key placed on top of the table. There were several doors leading off the corridor, but Alice could not get the key to open any of them. Then she saw a single small curtain in the corridor, and moved this to reveal a small door. The key opened this door, leading into a smaller corridor. Alice crouched down low, but the corridor was too small for her to be able to safely enter. Alice wished she could navigate the corridor, as it led to the loveliest garden she had ever seen – or imagined. The garden had tangerine trees, marmalade sky, cellophane flowers of yellow and green. It all seemed splendidly surreal, and reminded Alice of something. Then she realised, and said “It is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds brought to life.” Alice was experiencing a day in the life of a wonderland. Suddenly, as if moved within a giant kaleidoscope, the scene shifted, and Alice could see a walrus and some eggmen, sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun. “I am the Walrus” reflected Alice, meaning a song, as she did not really think she had turned into a walrus. Actually Alice wished she was a rather naughty girl, the sort who would let her knickers down, just like sexy Sadie, after the fancy dress party, as they shared a brief moment in the park. 

 

The Magic of Stories

Here is Story-Telling – another chapter from my new book. I have always loved stories – here are some of the reasons why.
“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”. This advice was given by a King to a White Rabbit, during a bizarre trial, staged near the conclusion of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (published in 1865). There is a lot to be said for starting stories other than at the beginning – I often begin in the middle, hop backwards to the opening, and meander through several digressions, before reaching something like an ending. The curious world of Wonderland has been an unlikely influence on my story-telling, as an imaginary counterpoint to the facts I normally rely upon. Following this short diversion, it is time to mention I have been fascinated by stories for almost as long as I can remember. Good stories entertain and inspire us, often providing vital insights into people’s lives. Stories can be fact or fiction – and sometimes a hybrid.

Shortly before becoming a teenager, I moved from stories aimed at children to reading books primarily written for an adult audience. Football and history books were consumed with particular enthusiasm. I discovered the James Bond novels and stories, written by Ian Fleming, and read all of these during a spell of about a year. Bond led an intriguing life as a spy, with missions in exotic locations, while Fleming brilliantly described the thoughts and actions of the character – including Bond’s shower and breakfast routines, plus his appreciation of fine food, sophisticated drinks, and beautiful women.
Besides being an avid reader, I appreciated other types of story. A notable example was television situation comedies, with great programmes from the BBC in the 1970s including Are You Being Served?, Butterflies, Fawlty Towers, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and The Good Life. I also enjoyed comedy sketch programmes, such as Morecambe and Wise, The Dick Emery Show, and The Two Ronnies. The part of the latter show where Ronnie Corbett would sit in an armchair, telling a joke, surrounded by several minutes of tangential rambling, irritated me at the time. In retrospect, Ronnie Corbett’s style of story-telling appears to have had a great influence upon me. Moving away from comedy, television news bulletins, plus newspapers, helped develop knowledge of the outside world.

In my youth, I planned to develop the enthusiasm for books, by becoming a writer. I started to read the works of George Orwell, who remains my favourite author, due to his profound ideas, expressed in a conversational prose style. Besides books published in his lifetime, I enjoyed The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, a posthumously-compiled four volume set. The series opened with Why I Write, an essay from 1946, in which Orwell gave a summary of his literary career. Orwell argued that writers are motivated by four factors, the first of these being “sheer egoism”, caused by a wish to be recognised as a clever person. Next came “aesthetic enthusiasm”, which could follow from appreciation of external beauty, the taking of pleasure in the usage of words, and a wish to share experience. The third factor was “historical impulse”, with an author finding facts to be used for posterity. Orwell’s final motive was “political purpose”, with writers seeking to be an influence on people’s ideas about the direction of their society.
What is my motivation as a writer? I think – we cannot always be certain about motives – that the central factor is a wish for communication. I feel a need to connect my enthusiasms, ideas, and knowledge with those of fellow human beings. I also seek to give permanent record to experiences, many of which would otherwise be forgotten. Enjoyment in the creation of a piece of writing is followed by a sense of satisfaction when it is published, read by others, and discussed. From the preceding sentences, it appears the second and third of Orwell’s themes are predominant for me. I must confess that ego plays a big (too big?) part, while politics has often been a feature of my writing. My books may appear diverse in nature – spanning history, politics, football, and autobiography – but they form part of a logical progression, as writing is interweaved with other activities. The books and experiences are twin facets of the developing story of my life, with personal activity placed in a wider context (I could say “the bigger picture”).
I have developed a role as something of a raconteur, offering funny (sometimes slightly exaggerated) tales of my experiences. Stories are told, in animated fashion, at social gatherings, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, although audience participation (or even heckling) often proves a more effective stimulant. I have a love of trivia, and thirst for knowledge, taking delight at links between odd scraps of information. Interesting turns of phrase are often adapted to new purposes in my writing. I also make (I think) good use of irony.
Inspiration arrives from diverse sources. One of my heroes is Bruce Springsteen, many of whose lyrics take the form of extended narrative. Bruce often tells thoughtful, or comic, stories to introduce songs during concerts. Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978, was re-packaged in 2010 within The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce’s masterpiece, a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film. This is story-telling in the grand manner. Another great musical act are the Velvet Underground, an American band, managed at one point by Andy Warhol, who (supposedly) produced their debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, and (definitely) contributed the front cover banana design. The Velvets sold few records during their creative peak, in the 1960s, but have built a legendary reputation, as innovators who influenced countless other artists. One of the strangest recordings by the group, and among the first I heard, as a teenager, is The Gift. A freakish short story, packed with telling incidental detail, is recited (not sung) against the backdrop of a monotonous piece of music. It is a work of genius. The words of The Gift were written by Lou Reed, and narrated by John Cale, in his native Welsh accent, this being an incongruous delivery of a tale taking place in the USA. Several years later, Cale produced Patti Smith’s astonishing debut album, Horses – which takes us to a land where poetry merges with punk rock. Patti Smith subsequently co-wrote Because the Night with Bruce Springsteen. In 1981 I read Dave Marsh’s Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story. This work included a reference to the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, which prompted me to read the latter book in 1984, when it was re-issued by Penguin. Wolfe’s novel, based on his experiences as an author, is outstanding, although rather patchy – it was compiled by an editor, Edward C Aswell, from an unfinished manuscript after the writer’s death. One section of Wolfe’s novel originated as a short story, with the clever title A Great Idea For a Story.
Hopping back over the Atlantic, from the USA to Britain, the television dramas and films of Stephen Poliakoff throw eloquent light on contemporary British society, characteristically featuring great ensemble acting, sumptuous settings, and atmospheric music. Poliakoff’s achievements as a writer and director include Perfect Strangers, depicting a large family gathering, with genealogy a major factor in a drama where secrets are unveiled, and Shooting the Past, which revolves around a photo library. Alongside film, I enjoy live theatre. One outstanding piece is Les Miserables, with dramatic action, and brilliant songs, making up for an almost impenetrable plot, set in nineteenth century France. I generally dislike films that are musicals, as the format appears false, but find the theatrical equivalent entertaining, with productions of Cats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (from Ian Fleming’s non-Bond novel), Peter Pan, and Wicked springing to mind. Non-musical plays I recollect as being impressive range from an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the modern O Go My Man, written by Stella Feehily. The latter is a comedy about relationships (the title being an anagram of monogamy), set in Dublin. In the novel of Frankenstein, the (self-taught) monster reads books which include The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the real world, I have read Goethe’s amazing epistolary novel (a true original), plus his two part poetic play, Faust. Goethe worked on Faust at intervals across a span of 58 years, and referred to this masterpiece as “a private fairy tale”, having modestly decided the second part would not be published until after his death.
The oldest surviving stories in the world are The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, possibly dating from around 700 BC. It is arguable that Homer was not really an author in the modern sense, given that his works were composed, and delivered, as oral poems. In presenting the adventures of Odysseus, Homer uses disjointed chronology, in an account full of repetition and circumlocution. This is a type of narrative that engages the attention of the reader. In the twentieth century, Homer’s The Odyssey provided a basis for Ulysses by James Joyce, who moved the action to Dublin. In a similar way, the novella Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, set in the Congo, was adapted to a new setting, with a fictionalisation of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now, a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Another of Coppola’s works is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which rates as one of the best cinematic portrayals of the tales of Dracula. The original Dracula novel by Stoker, set in Romania and Britain, during the late nineteenth century, is full of political symbolism and repressed eroticism. In 1993 I started to write a novel, (imaginatively) entitled Dracula, advancing the story first set out by Stoker, a century earlier, to the contemporary world. My novel is uncompleted, and dormant, awaiting possible revival in the future – just like a sleeping vampire – but that is another story for another day (or another chapter).
Great contemporary novelists include David Lodge, author of the academic romances Small World and Nice Work, plus Martin Amis, whose London Fields, published in 1989, looked ahead to a turn of millennium that is now part of our past. I have recently discovered the brilliance of Julian Barnes, through his Booker Prize winner The Sense of an Ending (2011), and also flown back to Flaubert’s Parrot (1984). There is also A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989), a “novel” that is actually a cycle of linked short stories, mixed with some factual elements. The concept is original, and the book features some brilliant story-telling by Barnes, as various themes echo through the pages (I wish I could manage something like that). Much earlier, the gentle writing of Henry James brought us The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady, described as “the two most brilliant novels in the language” by F R Leavis, one of Britain’s most influential literary critics – he strangely received a mention in the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary. In 1984 Merchant Ivory Productions released a film adaptation of The Bostonians – starring Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, and Madeleine Potter. It is a fascinating work, in which the (admittedly unappealing) character of Basil Ransome seeks both love and success as a writer, amidst Henry James’ political satire and subtle comedy – “The Master” was a consummate story-teller. Five years earlier, during 1979, the same film production team had offered The Europeans, a dramatisation of another novel by James. Merchant Ivory have also filmed three of the novels of E M Forster, A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End (the latter being the book that gave us the phrase “only connect”). Moving from the sublime to the surreal, another cherished piece is The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, a delightful fantasy about strange creatures. I was enchanted by a work that Tolkien introduces with the words “This is a story of long ago”. It also appears to be a tale from a far away land, judging by the strange maps, drawn by Tolkien, that appear in The Hobbit.
I take pleasure from the physical feeling of a well-produced book, preferring a solid hardback to the less sturdy paperback. There is sensual delight in the freshness of a new book, but I also enjoy the mature scent of an older book. In many cases, books are enhanced by attractive presentation. During the 1990s, I was a member of the Folio Society, which issues works of excellent quality. Folio publications I have read include The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, Memoirs of My Life by Edward Gibbon, and The Folio Anthology of Autobiography, edited by Angela Thirlwell. Another outstanding Folio book is Columbus on Himself by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, which combines extracts from the writings of Christopher Columbus with biographical commentary. A visionary explorer, Columbus was also an eccentric, and often slipped into delusion. I am fascinated by the story of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492, and his attempt “to learn the secrets of this world”. Back in 1993 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plus the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There. The Folio Society edition of Lewis Carroll’s linked novels, the latter of which places Alice’s experiences within an oblique chess problem, consists of books with matching design (including blue hardback cover with red cloth spine) presented in a blue slipcase. Renewed mention of Alice echoes the start of the current essay. I have reached the point where I will stop this example of story-telling, but elsewhere countless tales continue to develop, and be told, in a process full of wonder.

Once upon a time – the first chapter of my new book

Once upon a time, fairly long ago, but not far away, it was a foggy Winter day. To be precise, this was Monday December 14 1964, and I was born at 5.20 in the morning, the location being Aldershot Hospital, in Hampshire. I was the first child of Phillip and Jill Godsell, who had set up home in Fleet, a quiet town five miles from Aldershot. Dad was a civil servant, working at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, part of the Ministry of Defence. A Labour government had recently taken office, led by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. The Beatles were at number one in the singles chart, with I Feel Fine – featuring feedback introduction, courtesy of a deliberate error by John Lennon.
My mother, who may be biased, has often recalled I was a lovely baby, who did not cry much. I was baptised at Christ Church, in Crookham (a village adjoining Fleet), on February 14 1965, but have since converted from the Church of England to atheism. Mum noted progress in a Baby Book, from which it appears I was a slow starter. I did not begin to crawl until the age of 11 months, and stood up for the first time five days after my first birthday. A few months later, I learned how to walk, taking the first steps without help on April 7 1966. During the Summer, mum, dad, and I went on holiday at Paignton, in Devon. I learned how to kick a football at around the time England won the 1966 World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2 in the Final, at Wembley. My parents vaguely recall that I watched the match live on television, sat with my father. I was only 19 months old (or should that be young?) at the time. Within a few years, I became aware of the enormity of England’s success in winning the competition. I was destined – 24 years after the 1966 tournament – to publish a book entitled The World Cup. An extract from that volume will appear in a subsequent chapter of the current work.
On February 14 1967 mum gave birth to another son, named Mark. I do not retain any memory of my brother as a baby, but have been told I was fond of him. In mum’s record, my first response to stories arrived at the age of two and a half years, which means mid-1967. Strikes me as surprisingly late, considering my subsequent fascination with stories. In the Summer of 1968, mum, dad, Mark, and I had our first holiday together, visiting a caravan site at Rockley Sands, in Dorset. Mark and I were unwell during the holiday, and my being sick in the caravan one evening is my earliest definite memory – not an ideal starting point. In 1969 our family had a caravan holiday at Selsey Bill, in West Sussex. Drives around southern England often took us along “George Carriageway”, this being my name for dual carriageway, which I thought was built by a man named George. Another favourite phrase was “cold wind”, something I would say when looking out of windows on Winter days. I have few specific memories of my early years, back in the 1960s, but recollect a happy time. I often wonder what would happen if we could only connect the past and the present.

I joined Gally Hill Infants School, in Crookham, at the start of 1970, aged five. There was an anxious start, with tears in the first few days. I felt a lot of worry at school, despite being a good learner, struggling to integrate – I remember collective lunchtimes being daunting. I was often picked upon by one of the boys, a bully who was older than me. At the same time I was befriended by a girl in my class, named Nicola, who attempted to guard me from threats of violence. Many times in my life, I have looked upon females as protectors. I attended the school, which combined solid Victorian buildings with modern prefabricated classrooms, for two and a half years. It felt a rather gloomy place. On the brighter side, I enjoyed Friday afternoon breaks, wandering around the playground alone, looking forward to the weekend, and the comforting surroundings of home.
A few months after I began school, we had a holiday at Brean Sands, near Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset, being based in a Pontin’s camp. This was part of a series of extended family holidays. Mum, dad, Mark, and myself generally went on holiday with my mother’s parents, Ernest and Dorothy Collings, plus my mother’s sister Sally, her husband Neville, and their sons Stephen, Gary, and Martin. The visit to Brean Sands was repeated in both 1971 and 1972, following which there was a holiday at another Pontin’s site, located at Camber Sands, in East Sussex, during 1973.
In the Autumn of 1972, I moved to Crookham County Junior School, known as Sandy Lane, after a nearby road. In the first year I was unsettled by my teacher, Mrs Stark. She was a pleasant woman, but could be stern, and reduced me to tears on several occasions. Another source of anxiety was inability to tie my shoelaces, until I received patient lessons from a girl named Carol. Mrs Stark said I was the cleverest boy in her class, and remarked that I never gave up trying to achieve things. Perseverance is a quality I have retained.
My father had been a close friend of John Noakes during the 1950s, when they served in the Royal Air Force. In 1972, with my brother and I regular viewers of BBC’s Blue Peter, dad wrote to John Noakes, seeking a reunion. One day a neighbour told us that John had arrived looking for dad, while we had been out, and left his telephone number. Dad called John, and our family met up with the Noakes family at their home. We encountered Shep, the Blue Peter dog, looked after by John, but there was not any sign of sticky-back plastic. Mark expected to meet Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton, and was surprised the three Blue Peter presenters did not live together. Following this, John and his son made a return visit to us at Fleet. This was my first brush with celebrity, and I learned that John Noakes was basically an ordinary bloke, despite having found national fame. Meeting John sticks in my mind as a great childhood experience, and a story I still enjoy re-telling – here’s one I did earlier (could not resist that).
Dad represented the RAF at youth level football, with the opposition in one match being the Wolverhampton Wanderers youth team, featuring Ron Flowers. Within a few years, Flowers was a part of a Wolves team that won the Football League, and appeared in the fledgling European Cup. Flowers was also an England international, playing in the 1962 World Cup finals. My father enjoyed being an amateur player, for Bemerton Heath (in Salisbury) and Fleet Spurs. I developed into a football fanatic, and followed Manchester United, enthralled by dad’s stories of watching the “Busby Babes”, a team decimated in 1958 by the Munich air crash, which caused the deaths of eight players. Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup, a feat achieved in 1968, but the team, starring George Best, rapidly declined during the next few years. England were also losing their way. At the 1970 World Cup finals, played in Mexico, England were beaten 3-2 by West Germany, after extra time, in the Quarter Finals. The 1974 World Cup saw England eliminated in the qualifiers for the first time, as they lost 2-0 away to Poland, and were held to a 1-1 draw in the return match, at Wembley. I watched live television coverage of both games, played during 1973, being gripped by the drama of the World Cup. Another early football memory is mum and dad allowing me to stay up later than usual, at the age of seven, to watch the first half of the 1972 European Cup Final, live on television. When I went to bed, the match was goalless, but Ajax went on to beat Internazionale 2-0, with a pair of goals from Johan Cruyff. Subsequently a golden era for English clubs saw the trophy being taken in seven out of eight seasons, by Liverpool (1977, 1978, 1981, and 1984), Nottingham Forest (1979 and 1980), and Aston Villa (1982). As an adult, I would write about this, and much more, in the book Europe United: A History of the European Cup / Champions League.
The Easter holiday of 1973 included a visit to Stonehenge. I remember being captivated by the aura of Stonehenge, with the ancient stones sat in quiet isolation, holding thousands of years of memory. This was a wonderful survival into the modern era of our earliest past. I felt the power of history, something which still holds my imagination. Sometimes stories develop, and expand, over a long period of time. Fully 35 years after the first visit to Stonehenge, a piece about the place would form the opening chapter of my book Legends of British History, published in 2008. There will be some material from the book later in this chronicle. The trip to Stonehenge occurred during a weekend with granny and granddad, at their home in Salisbury. Mum, dad, Mark, and I frequently visited granny and granddad, and retain happy memories. There was tea-time, with lots of cakes, followed by our eating suppers of crusty bread with cheese and pickle, before retiring to beds where the sheets and blankets had been tucked in very tightly by granny. In the sitting room, a large clock ticked solidly, and chimed each hour. Displayed in a bookcase below the clock, granddad had a collection of books, mostly history and novels, some of which I read. Alice Rattue, my great grandmother, was a lively character, and I recall visits to her home in Green Croft Street, in Salisbury, the street in which she lived for most of her life. Always seeming to wear grey pleated skirts, Alice swore quite a bit as she recounted disputes with a next door neighbour. Although illiterate, Alice was able to write her name. Alice had been born in 1892, a few months after William Gladstone became Prime Minister for the fourth time, and died during the first of the two 1974 General Election campaigns. The February 1974 Election led to Labour regaining power, nearly four years after losing to the Conservatives.
I attended my first football match on February 17 1974, joining dad and friends in seeing Aldershot draw 3-3 with Southend United, in the Third Division. During May, dad took me to Wembley Stadium, and we saw England beat Northern Ireland 1-0, in the British Championship – this was exciting, although the atmosphere was not all it could have been, with the crowd far below full capacity. A few weeks later, I was thrilled by the World Cup finals, despite the absence of England. West Germany, the host nation, beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the Final. The following year, dad, Neville, Stephen, and I went to a European Championship game, seeing England beat Cyprus 5-0, with Malcolm MacDonald (sometimes “Supermac”) scoring all five goals – four of them from headers.
Many of my happiest childhood memories stem from holidays in the sun, at Goodrington, a village adjoining Paignton. Mum’s extended family visited Goodrington in each year from 1974 to 1980. On the first of these trips we stayed in a cramped boarding house, owned by a grumpy couple, which did not live up to an enticing name, Paradise Lodge. In subsequent years we based ourselves in the comfortable Goodrington Lodge Hotel. We became friendly with the family, named White, who owned the hotel, and several other regular visitors. The hotel was a short walk from Goodrington Sands, the two parts of which are known as the “morning beach” and “afternoon beach” respectively in our family. We used to rent a beach hut at the southern end, which had soft sand, and base ourselves there in the mornings. We would move to the northern part of the beach, with compacted sand, in the afternoon – to enjoy swimming, making giant sandcastles, and playing tennis. The tide comes in fully on the “afternoon beach” so in practice it could not always have been used – but I have the recollection of many afternoons on that beach rather than the opposite. On Wednesday evenings there was a regular disco at the hotel, hosted by the manager, John White, who endeared himself to young and old alike by inadvertently introducing records by Showaddywaddy as performances from Showaddyshowaddy – seemed even more of a tongue-twister. The discos were preceded by cricket matches in the neighbouring park, with our family being joined by other guests. The games got rather competitive, from my perspective – there were arguments about the rules, plus displays of frustration with opponents and team-mates alike.
Cricket was a sport I followed with interest, including attendance at a few Hampshire matches. During 1974, I saw part of a County Championship game, in which Hampshire (the previous season’s champions) beat Worcestershire (who went on to win the title this year) by an innings. The trip was organised by Neville, who was a keen cricketer, playing for Droxford, a picturesque village near Hambledon, “the Cradle of Cricket”. In 1977 Fleet was the scene of a benefit game for Barry Richards, the brilliant South African batsman who played for Hampshire. An injury prevented Richards from playing that day, but I was able to get him to autograph my copy of the benefit brochure. The progress of the England team featured in excellent BBC coverage, with television pictures being complemented by Test Match Special on the wireless – the word dad used for radio.
Dad was my hero as I grew up, with his offbeat sense of humour, and enthusiasms, being a great influence. Mum was the more practical, and steady, member of the family. Mum was also, as dad often remarked, an excellent cook. My parents grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in the back garden. I had lovely moments on Summer afternoons, sat in the garden, eating blackcurrants or strawberries, and watching butterflies flit among the flowers and plants. Each year we travelled to Cheltenham, the home town of the Godsell family, for the August bank holiday weekend, staying with Yvonne, a sister of dad, her husband David, and their daughter Elaine. Dad and David took Mark, Elaine, and I on visits to Pittville Park, with another cousin, Linda. I recall boat trips, with my poor steering rendering return to the perimeter of the lake problematic. On one occasion, reaching an island, I rapidly hopped onto land, whereupon Linda tried to do likewise, but fell into shallow water, and had to wade ashore. We would also visit my dad’s parents, Christopher and Phyllis (nee Cook-Cove). It was saddening to see Christopher, my grandfather, suffer very poor health for several years, leading to his death on March 19 1976.
I made my first journey abroad at Whitsun in 1976, joining a junior school trip to France. We stayed at Dieppe, and visited other sites in Normandy, including Fecamp and Rouen. In September I became a pupil at Court Moor Secondary School, where my mother was a member of the kitchen staff. Dad continued to work at the NGTE, with his role including the testing of Concorde engines. I developed an interest in family history, which was initially to last for a couple of years. Uncle David drew up a family tree of the Godsells, which prompted me to produce an equivalent chart covering my mother’s family. Ernest and Dorothy, my grandparents, provided information, some of which we found in a Family Bible, printed way back in 1877. The genealogical notes in the Bible opened with the marriage of William Pillar and Bessie Collins, at Dawlish, in Devon, during 1883. They were the parents of Alice, who was in turn the mother of Ernest.
I played in a couple of reserve team football matches for Court Moor. In February 1977 pupils and staff went to see England play the Netherlands. The Dutch masters gave a brilliant display and won 2-0, inspired by Johan Cruyff, who later described this as the best performance of his career. On another school outing to Wembley, we saw England beat Northern Ireland 1-0, in the British Championship, during May 1978. That years World Cup finals were held in Argentina, but England were not there, having been eliminated in the qualifiers by Italy, on goal difference. Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1, after extra time, in a bad-tempered, and dramatic, Final – on a pitch littered by an amazing ticker-tape (actually strips of toilet roll) greeting from the home crowd. Two members of Argentina’s squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, joined Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks later. In September, I saw Villa play for Tottenham, when they drew 1-1 away to Aldershot, in a testimonial match.
I attended filming of an episode of Are You Being Served? at a BBC studio in London, during November 1978. With mum having obtained dozens of tickets, a coach trip was organised, with mum, dad, Mark, and I being joined by lots of friends. It was fascinating to see how the programme was made. Prior to filming, we found ourselves in a studio corridor, alongside Wendy Richard and Penny Irving, who were dressed up as Miss Brahms and Miss Bakewell respectively. Dad exchanged hellos with Wendy and Penny. As a curious teenager, suddenly catching sight of a prominent pair of ladies from the exciting world of television, I was left in silent admiration.
Having previously gained a place in the junior school’s chess team, I represented Court Moor at that game. My place in the Court Moor team was secured by a good position in a school chess tournament in the latter part of 1978. I became rather obsessive about chess at this time, with enthusiasm turning to stress about my performance in the competition. My GP referred me to a paediatrician, who prescribed a course of Valium. I took Valium for a few weeks, did not feel any better, got worried about being on the medication, and stopped taking it. I was wrapped up in wider anxieties, about school work and my future. For some reason, which I did not really understand, I was lonely during the latter part of my time at Court Moor. Having been outgoing and popular, I became rather introverted, and was suddenly lacking in real friends. I was a bit of an oddball, who did not fit in, and suffered some bullying.
In May 1979 a General Election was won by the Conservative Party, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. I wrote about this grim event in the book A History of the Conservative Party, published a decade later – and will recycle some of that material in a little while. I felt the outgoing Labour government, in which Jim Callaghan replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister (during 1976), performed fairly well. The Labour government’s position unravelled during the “Winter of Discontent”, as the effects of industrial disputes were exacerbated by severe weather through the Winter of 1978-79. Long afterwards I can still recall (picture this) myself walking home from the centre of Fleet, on a cold day in February 1979, with lots of snow on the ground. I had just bought Blondie’s Parallel Lines LP, this being the start of a record collection, which grew rapidly in the next few years. Besides Blondie (fronted by Debbie Harry, an adorable illusion), my initial favourite artists included Elvis Costello (lyricist of genius), and the Sex Pistols (leaders of Britain’s punk rock movement). In August 1979, I bought Because the Night by Patti Smith, a passionate love song that had been a major hit on its release the previous year. I also purchased discs by Buddy Holly, tragically killed in an air crash back in 1959, at the age of just 22. With a great admiration for the Beatles, I became interested in John Lennon’s solo records. The senseless murder of Lennon, in December 1980, left millions of people around the world with feelings of immense sadness.
I acquired several records by Bruce Springsteen during 1980, starting with the Born to Run single. Next I bought Bruce’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, a remarkable album, released two years earlier, portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism. On May 30 1981, as an excited 16 year old, I attended a concert by Bruce and the E Street Band, at Wembley Arena, which lasted nearly three hours. The highlight was Because the Night, a song Bruce recorded for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but decided not to use. A tape of the song had been passed to Patti Smith, working on Easter – an album with an alluring cover picture of Patti – at the same studio complex as Bruce. The intermediary was Jimmy Iovine, multi-tasking (or multi-tracking) as engineer on Bruce’s album and producer of Patti’s record. With Bruce’s approval, Patti penned changes to the lyrics. Bruce performed Because the Night in concert with his set of words, but had not released his version as a record. I learned from Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, a biography by Dave Marsh, that a legendary track, The Promise, intended for the Darkness album, had also been omitted, and wondered when I might get to hear the song.
Our family had a seventh successive Summer holiday at Goodrington in 1980. Some members wanted a change, but the only problem I could see (or feel) was some hard potatoes, served at dinner in the hotel restaurant. Walking through the reception of the Goodrington Lodge one evening, I overheard John White on the telephone, complaining to the supplier that the potatoes would not go soft when boiled, which meant residents were not eating them. John had raised this with a delivery man, who said the hotelier was going soft in the head.

The Fascination of History

Hello all – back again

I have decided to tell my story in a series of posts.

History has always been important to me, ever since I first visited Stonehenge as a child.

Sometimes stories develop, and expand, over a long period of time. Thirty five years after my first visit to Stonehenge, a piece about the place formed the opening of my book Legends of British History, published in 2008.

When and where does British history begin? For me it started at Stonehenge, which I visited back in 1973, aged eight. I remember being captivated by the aura of Stonehenge, with the ancient stones sat in quiet isolation, holding thousands of years of memory. This was a wonderful survival into the modern era of our earliest past. I felt the power of history, something which still holds my imagination.

Work on the site that became known as Stonehenge commenced in around 3100 BC, when an earthwork, comprised of banks and ditches, was built with the use of primitive tools. The first set of stones arrived around a thousand years later, with the erection in about 2150 BC of the Bluestones. These stones were transported from the Prescelly Mountains, in the south west of Wales. It is amazing to think that approximately 80 of these stones, weighing up to four tons each, were moved across a distance of 240 miles as far back in time as four thousand years ago. The Outer Ring was constructed circa 2000 BC, using Sarsen stones, which were brought from the Marlborough Downs, about twenty miles north of Stonehenge. The journey was shorter than that taken by the Bluestones, but the transportation across land of the Sarsen stones, which weighed up to 50 tons each, must have required a monumental effort. At Stonehenge stone lintels were placed on top of the Sarsen stones, with these constructs being held in place by powerful joints. Further building at Stonehenge continued until around 1500 BC, at which point the Bluestones were re-arranged into what is now the Inner Circle.

Many theories have been advanced as to who built Stonehenge, and why. The most credible suggestions focus on the possibility that it had an astronomical, or other scientific, purpose. These are suggested by the alignment of the stones with the sun as dawn breaks on June 21 – the longest day of the year. Other serious contenders advance the idea of Stonehenge as a religious temple, in view of the importance that worship has always held in human society. Running alongside this is the possibility that Stonehenge was a burial ground for the leaders of the people that built this enormous edifice. There are many apparent burial mounds in the vicinity of Stonehenge. One of the most commonly-known suggestions is that Stonehenge was built by the Druids. This idea appears to have originated with John Aubrey (1626-1697), an antiquarian, folklorist, and owner of estates in Wiltshire, who is most famous for his authorship of the book Brief Lives. The theory is probably incorrect, as most evidence suggests that the Druids used forest temples as places of worship, rather than stone buildings. Nevertheless the modern-day Druids have regularly gathered at Stonehenge for the Summer solstice festival.

One of the books I grew up with was Wiltshire, a volume in Arthur Mee’s The King’s England series. Mee’s Wiltshire was first published in 1939, and my maternal grandfather, Ernest Collings, owned a copy of the 1965 update by C L S Linnell – Mee having died during the intervening years. Mee provides descriptions of the history, traditions, topography, and architecture of Wiltshire’s towns and villages. In a piece on the monument, Mee writes “It has been said of Stonehenge that it is an Ancient British work, a Druidical work, a Saxon work, even a Danish work, and a scholar has in our time suggested that it was erected by immigrants from Egypt”.

During the course of research for this narrative, I have found theorists seriously advancing alternative cases for the French, Bronze Age Greeks, or aliens from another planet as the builders of Stonehenge. The supposed scholarship on Stonehenge has become entwined with the fantastical. The most famous of the legendary explanations of Stonehenge revolves around traditions associated with King Arthur. The tale first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, written in the 1130s. During the fifth century, Hengest, an invading Saxon leader, massacred 300 British nobles, and Aurelius Ambrosius, the British high king, decided to raise a memorial to his fallen supporters. Uther Pendragon, the father of Arthur, led an expedition to Ireland, during which Merlin used magic to relocate the Giant’s Ring stone circle to Britain, whereupon it formed Stonehenge.

Very little of the original Stonehenge has survived into our current age. Over the centuries most of the stones have been lost – probably being plundered for use in other construction. It was not until 1918 that ownership of Stonehenge was transferred to the British government, and conservation became a priority. Visiting Stonehenge in 1973, I was saddened by the way in which recent generations had vandalised the site, with many people having carved their names in the stones. In 1978 public access to the actual stones, as opposed to the surrounding area, was curtailed. The restrictions have been continued by English Heritage, which has managed the site since 1984, balancing the need to conserve Stonehenge with a wish to make it accessible to the British public, and the many foreign tourists for whom it is a magnet. The work of English Heritage, and similar organisations, such as the National Trust, plays a vital role in preserving the physical presence of British history. In parallel, historians maintain and develop our history in written form. It is a wonderful ongoing process, and I seek to make a contribution.

Story-Telling

 

Here is an extract from my (newish) book Fifteen Minutes of Fame (an eccentri comnination of autobiography and cultural commentary) 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifteen-Minutes-Fame-Andrew-Godsell/dp/1447858727/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1335733260&sr=8-3

The following piece, written at intervals since 2009, recalls (with nostalgia) childhood enthusiasm for stories. The essay weaves backwards and forwards, through numerous tales, in various formats, that have gained attention across several decades, occasionally arriving somewhere near the present day.

 

“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”. This advice was given by a King to a White Rabbit, during a bizarre trial, staged near the conclusion of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (published in 1865). There is a lot to be said for starting stories other than at the beginning – I often begin in the middle, hop backwards to the opening, and meander through several digressions, before reaching something like an ending. The curious world of Wonderland has been an unlikely influence on my story-telling, as an imaginary counterpoint to the facts I normally rely upon. Following this short diversion, it is time to mention I have been fascinated by stories for almost as long as I can remember. Good stories entertain and inspire us, often providing vital insights into people’s lives. Stories can be factual or fictional – and sometimes a hybrid.

    I was born during the twentieth century – the exact year being 1964. By the middle of the 1970s, I had moved from stories aimed at children to reading books primarily written for an adult audience, with football being a particular interest. I discovered the James Bond novels and stories, written by Ian Fleming, and read all of these during a spell of about a year. Bond led an intriguing life as a spy, with missions in exotic locations, while Fleming brilliantly described the thoughts and actions of the character – including Bond’s shower and breakfast routines, plus his appreciation of fine food, sophisticated drinks, and beautiful women. Another enthusiasm was history books, consumed as a teenager.

    Besides being an avid reader, I appreciated other forms of story-telling. A notable example was television situation comedies, with great programmes from the BBC in the 1970s including Are You Being Served?, Butterflies, Fawlty Towers, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and The Good Life. I also enjoyed comedy sketch programmes, such as Morecambe and Wise, The Dick Emery Show, and The Two Ronnies. The part of the latter show where Ronnie Corbett would sit in an armchair, telling a joke, surrounded by several minutes of tangential rambling, irritated me at the time. In retrospect, Ronnie Corbett’s style of story-telling appears to have had a great influence upon me. Moving away from comedy, television news bulletins, plus newspapers, helped develop a knowledge of the outside world.

    In my youth, I planned to develop the enthusiasm for books, by becoming a writer. I started to read the works of George Orwell, who remains my favourite author, due to his profound ideas, expressed in a conversational prose style. Besides books published in his lifetime, I enjoyed The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, a posthumously-compiled four volume set. The series opened with Why I Write, an essay from 1946, in which Orwell gave a summary of his literary career. Orwell argued that writers are motivated by four factors, the first of these being “sheer egoism”, caused by a wish to be recognised as a clever person. Next came “aesthetic enthusiasm”, which could follow from appreciation of external beauty, the taking of pleasure in the usage of words, and a wish to share experience. The third factor was “historical impulse”, with an author finding facts to be used for posterity. Orwell’s final motive was “political purpose”, with writers seeking to be an influence on people’s ideas about the direction of their society.

    What is my motivation as a writer? I think – we cannot always be certain about motives – that the central factor is a wish for communication. I feel a need to connect my enthusiasms, ideas, and knowledge with those of fellow human beings. I also seek to give permanent record to experiences, many of which would otherwise be forgotten. Enjoyment in the creation of a piece of writing is followed by a sense of satisfaction when it is published, read by others, and discussed. From the preceding sentences, it appears the second and third of Orwell’s themes are predominant for me. I must confess that ego plays a big (too big?) part, while politics has often been a feature of my writing. My books may appear diverse in nature – spanning history, politics, and football, besides a miniature autobiography – but they form part of a logical progression, as writing is interweaved with other activities. The books and experiences are twin facets of the developing story of my life, with personal activity placed in a wider context (I could say “the bigger picture”).

    I have developed a role as something of a raconteur, offering funny (sometimes slightly exaggerated) tales of my experiences. Stories are told, in animated fashion, at social gatherings, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, although audience participation (or even heckling) often proves a more effective stimulant. I have a love of trivia, and thirst for knowledge, taking delight at links between odd scraps of information. Interesting turns of phrase are often adapted to new purposes in my writing. I also make (I think) good use of irony.

    Inspiration arrives from diverse sources. One of my heroes is Bruce Springsteen, many of whose lyrics take the form of extended narrative. Bruce often tells thoughtful or comic stories to introduce songs during concerts. Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978, was re-packaged in 2010 within The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce’s masterpiece, a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film. This is story-telling in the grand manner. Another great musical act are the Velvet Underground, an American band – managed at one point by Andy Warhol – that sold very few records during their creative peak, in the 1960s, but have built a legendary reputation, as innovators who influenced countless other artists. One of the strangest recordings by the group, and among the first I heard, as a teenager, is The Gift. A freakish short story, packed with telling incidental detail, is recited (not sung) against the backdrop of a monotonous piece of music. It is a work of genius. The words of The Gift were written by Lou Reed, and narrated by John Cale, in his native Welsh accent, this being an incongruous delivery of a tale taking place in the USA. Several years later, Cale produced Patti Smith’s astonishing debut album, Horses. Patti Smith subsequently co-wrote Because the Night  with Bruce Springsteen. In 1981 I read Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, a book by Dave Marsh. This work included a reference to the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, which prompted me to read the latter book in 1984, when it was re-issued by Penguin. Wolfe’s novel, based on his experiences as an author, is outstanding, although rather patchy – it was compiled by an editor, Edward C Aswell, from an unfinished manuscript after the writer’s death. One section of Wolfe’s novel originated as a short story, with the clever title A Great Idea For a Story.

    Hopping back over the Atlantic, from the USA to Britain, the television dramas and films of Stephen Poliakoff throw eloquent light on contemporary British society, characteristically featuring great ensemble acting, sumptuous settings, and atmospheric music. Poliakoff’s achievements as a writer and director include Perfect Strangers, depicting a large family gathering, with genealogy a major factor in a drama where secrets are unveiled, and Shooting the Past, which revolves around a photo library. Alongside film, I enjoy live theatre. One outstanding piece is Les Miserables, with dramatic action, and brilliant songs, making up for an almost impenetrable plot, set in nineteenth century France. I generally dislike films that are musicals, as the format appears false, but find the theatrical equivalent entertaining, with productions of Cats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (from Ian Fleming’s non-Bond novel), Peter Pan, and Wicked springing to mind. Non-musical plays I recollect as being impressive range from an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the modern O Go My Man, written by Stella Feehily. The latter is a comedy about relationships – the title being an anagram of monogamy – set in Dublin. In the novel of Frankenstein, the (self-taught) monster reads books which include The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the real world, I have read Goethe’s amazing epistolary novel (a true original), plus his two part poetic play, Faust. Goethe worked on Faust at intervals across a span of 58 years, and referred to this masterpiece as “a private fairy tale”, having modestly decided the second part would not be published until after his death. 

    The oldest surviving stories in the world are The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, possibly dating from around 700 BC. It is arguable that Homer was not really an author in the modern sense, given that his works were composed, and delivered, as oral poems. In presenting the adventures of Odysseus, Homer uses disjointed chronology, in an account full of repetition and circumlocution. This is a type of narrative that engages the attention of the reader. In the twentieth century, Homer’s The Odyssey provided a basis for Ulysses by James Joyce, who moved the action to Dublin. In a similar way, the novella Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, set in the Congo, was adapted to a new setting, with a fictionalisation of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now, a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Another of Coppola’s works is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which rates as one of the best cinematic portrayals of the tales of Dracula. The original Dracula novel by Stoker, set in Romania and Britain, during the late nineteenth century, is full of political symbolism and repressed eroticism. In 1993 I started to write a novel, (imaginatively) entitled Dracula, that advanced the story first set out by Stoker, a century earlier, to the contemporary world. My novel is uncompleted, and dormant, awaiting possible revival in the future – just like a sleeping vampire – but that is another story for another day. Seventeen years on from starting my Dracula, I set out on another novel in 2010, with a re-write of The Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith, again moving a late nineteenth century story to the modern day. 

    Great contemporary British novelists include David Lodge, author of the academic romances Small World and Nice Work, plus Martin Amis, whose London Fields, published in 1989, looked ahead to a turn of millennium that is now part of our past. Much earlier, the gentle writing of Henry James brought us The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady, described as “the two most brilliant novels in the language” by F R Leavis, one of Britain’s most influential literary critics – he strangely received a mention in the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary. In 1984 Merchant Ivory Productions released a film adaptation of The Bostonians – starring Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, and Madeleine Potter. It is a fascinating work, in which the (admittedly unappealing) character of Basil Ransome seeks both love and success as a writer, amidst Henry James’ political satire and subtle comedy – “The Master” was a consummate story-teller. Five years earlier, during 1979, the same film production team had offered The Europeans, a dramatisation of another novel by James. Merchant Ivory have also filmed three of the novels of E M Forster, A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End (the latter being the book that gave us the phrase “only connect”). Moving from the sublime to the surreal, another cherished piece is The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, a delightful fantasy about strange creatures. I was enchanted by a work that Tolkien introduces with the words “This is a story of long ago”. It also appears to be a tale from a far away land, judging by the strange maps, drawn by Tolkien, that appear in The Hobbit.

    I take pleasure from the physical feeling of a well-produced book, preferring a solid hardback to the less sturdy paperback. There is sensual delight in the freshness of a new book, but I also enjoy the mature scent of an older book. In many cases, books are enhanced by attractive presentation. During the 1990s, I was a member of the Folio Society, which issues works of excellent quality. Folio publications I have read include The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, and The Folio Anthology of Autobiography, edited by Angela Thirlwell. Another outstanding Folio book is Columbus on Himself by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, which combines extracts from the writings of Christopher Columbus with biographical commentary. A visionary explorer, Columbus was also an eccentric, and often slipped into delusion. I am fascinated by the story of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492, and his attempt “to learn the secrets of this world”. Back in 1993 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plus the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There. The Folio Society edition of Lewis Carroll’s linked novels, the latter of which places Alice’s experiences within an oblique chess problem, consists of books with matching design, in a blue slipcase. Renewed mention of Alice echoes the start of the current essay. I have reached the point where I will stop this example of story-telling, but elsewhere countless tales continue to develop, and be told, in a process full of wonder.

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