12 May 2006
Didn't manage the 5.30 wake-up this morning; this probably has something to do with the drinking-till-the-pub-closed last night. I am a bad person. But I was with poets, and we novelists have to keep our end up.
It's a pity I wasn't up betimes, because I have to catch a midday train, and I wanted to get some work done first, so that I didn't feel too greatly pressured about working en route: happy now to do it if I can, but if the carriage is crowded & noisy then it won't be possible, and I don't want to sit there for three hours grinding my teeth and cursing my fellow passengers for existing. No more than I normally do, at least. I love trains, in the same way that I love pubs - the emptier the better.
I've still got a couple of hours, though, so I guess I'll get the story moving on, at least. Not just the moral pressure of a deadline: Issel is about to spit, and I want to see what happens (the Sundain do not spit - ever - for reasons that are apparent, but this is the third time in a book and a half for Issel, who is a bad boy, and it's always devastating one way or another).
Barry is also a bad boy; he has chewed my glasses overnight. Happily only the ear-piece ends, so I can still wear them - indeed, they fit rather more snugly than they did before - but what is this thing with chewing metal? He does it to radio aerials too, and I really wish he wouldn't. He's got lovely strong white teeth - trust me, I am intimate with them - but I worry.
Off to Birmingham today; an evening with writerly friends, and then a Write Fantastic gig at the Tolkien Weekend at Sarehole Mill. This is by way of being a first-anniversary event, as the same gig last year was our first public appearance.
Sarehole Mill is where Tolkien was a child, and it's very Shire-like, so I get to tell my how-I-met-Tolkien story again. Obviously I was a child myself, which is almost the point of the narrative; I was twelve, and my English teacher adapted 'Farmer Giles of Ham' into a play, and I played the king (Augustus Bonifacious Ambrosius Aurelianus Antoninus Pius et Magnificus, Dux, Rex et Tyrannus Mediterranearum Partium. I remembered...). After the first night I was backstage taking my make-up off (scholarship boy, at a posh school; we had a stage, and a backstage, and dressing rooms, and those mirrors with lightbulbs all the way around and everything) and just entirely thrilled with myself for being an actor and having make-up to take off, and in came Mr Gill the English teacher with a little old man. "Oh," he said, "Charles, good," (you can tell this is a true story - he called me Charles, and I'm prepared to admit to it), "here's someone you'll want to meet. Professor Tolkien, this is Charles Brenchley..."
And it was, it was the man himself. I'm sorry, that should have capitals. The Man Himself. And bless him, he took his pipe out of his pocket and fiddled with it but didn't light it, and he sat and talked to me for five minutes, and I have absolutely no idea what he said. For him, I guess it was just another dull conversation with an awestruck schoolboy; for me, it was like meeting God (I'd read LotR first when I was nine, and probably half a dozen times by twelve), and just too potent to register in anything so commonplace as memory. All he left me with was the impression of a man barely in touch with this world, the better part of himself always off in Middle Earth - but that is exactly what I would have wanted and expected to see, and I was twelve years old, and I have never trusted that impression.
And I've been telling that story - with that rider - all my adult life; and now suddenly this week I read this, in Rick Gekoski's "Tolkien's Gown":
"He was a decent, shambling old chap, an unlit pipe in his mouth, his eyes focused inward, so that you never felt he was actually addressing you. Presumably he was internally somewhere in his fictional Middle Earth, lost in epic musings." Etc. Which is exactly the impression that I carry. I have a little more respect for my twelve-year-old self now; I kind of want to go back and apologise, for thirty years of dissing him.
© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.