Tuesday, 20 February 2018

WRITERS DON'T DO LUNCH




It remains the single most vital piece of advice I have ever been given by another writer. It was imparted by the matchless Joan Didion during an interview for YOU Magazine in San Francisco, mid-Eighties, when I was but a blade of grass in the lawn beneath the steeples of her Hemingway-inspired prose. Situation unchanged.
Lunch is time's thief, tearing scribes from their desks, luring inspiration into the recesses of mid-day indulgence, and discarding it there with a sneer. Lunch divides the day, making a mockery of a morning's toil and rendering useless the flimsy hours thereafter. It is one of the reasons why I have long collected the better excuses for the cancellation of lunches I should never have committed to in the first place. Today's is a blinder and has been logged for future use. Do you think I'd get away with it?
'I've just returned from a holiday learning to kitesurf,' imparted the intended lunch date, 'and I have to see a doctor about my injuries. Call it a midlife crisis.' Though secretly delighted that an uninterrupted day of work now stretches before me - I'm ghostwriting a huge memoir for a formidable client - I couldn't help but wonder. Last year, my friend took up kayaking, and raised a tidy sum for charity - in the name of a friend's little boy who had recently died from a rare disease. Now kitesurfing. My initial thought being, for whatever reason, he is working his way through sports beginning with K. But Kabaddi and Karate fall before Kayaking in the alphabet, Kickball and Kickboxing precede Kitesurfing, and for the life of me I cannot imagine my friend, athletic and appealing for a fifty-something though he is, attempting Ken-Do, Knife-Throwing or Kung-Fu ...
He suggested further dates that I simply cannot commit to. Because Writers Don't Do Lunch. And anyway, would he still be alive? Would he have resisted the urge to hurtle on mindlessly through the sporting alphabet to the most life-threatening pursuits of our race's most gnashing dare-devils? Might he even, as we speak, be preparing to launch himself from Pyeongchang's mighty peaks in an attempt to confound the achievements of Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards?
For the record, cocktails at around 5.30pm is the preferred slot. I usually feel deserving of a couple by then. On dry, sea-levellish land, with reasonable access to conventional forms of transport and a comprehensive beverage menu to hand. Soho is obvious.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND





Perhaps it did not snow deep in the woods as mourners trod the time-worn path to the funeral of a friend. Perhaps there were not drifts and flurries to muffle misery, nor icy ground, though I had longed for them, maybe imagining an arctic setting for this tragic farewell. It only drizzled, and there were signs of life around the graves that would receive him; the shoots of coming daffodils against grey, ancient stone. He would have liked that.
That Nick Fitzherbert was a vibrant, exceptional, generous and dutiful man could be in no doubt from the eulogies that followed. We all knew this from having known him while he lived. Which was why we gathered, gripped in grief, remembering, giving thanks and doing ritualistic things while wondering for the life of us why he was taken.
Cancer is the grimmest reaper. He has scythed away the best in recent times. I remembered them yesterday, a roll-call of brilliant boys who were seized too soon: Roger Scott, Rob Lee, Nick Gordon, Charles Armitage, Jim Diamond, David Bowie. Men who changed my life and those of countless others, irrevocably. In the end, I had thought, there is always Nick. But now there isn't.
Many knew him better, for longer; had greater claim and more right to grieve. That there was standing room only in the church of his childhood was proof enough of his worth.
Nick's thing was music. A fervent fan as a young teenager at Charterhouse School, he launched a mobile disco with his younger brother Ivan and ran it enthusiastically for years, before deciding it was time to get a proper job. He surpassed himself as a PR, as a coach of presentation skills, as an internationally-published author and even as a magician and member of the Magic Circle. But his enthusiasm for music never waned. His knowledge was unsurpassed, too. His contributions to my books were of course invaluable. He and David Stark were my most loyal gig companions. You have your work cut out now, DS.
It had been a few years since I last visited Hurtwood Park, the Surrey polo club owned and run by Jayne and Kenney Jones. How Small Faces devotee Nick would have loved that his family held his farewell there. I expect he knows.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

LIN MANUAL MIRANDA: THE SHAKESPEARE OF OUR AGE?



'Hamilton' is breathtaking. I felt as though I knew it verbatim: my kids have been singing the songs to me for the past two years. They have the whole thing by heart, as do their friends. Its influence on millennials has been that nuclear.
But nothing could have prepared me. This is musical theatre rewritten and reinvented. It makes a mockery of the 'Mamma Mias', the 'Lion Kings' and the 'Phantoms' without trying. It takes 'Les Miserables' to a logical conclusion. It states, in so doing, that the language of the genre is simply the magic of song and dance distilled. Little else. It needs no special effects (although the lighting design here is inspired). It is political. It deploys the pantomime tweak of the evolving send-up of current affairs. It compares gun crime and the plight of immigrants in the 18th Century to those exact-same blots on the American landscape today. It ridicules our own imperial past. It is so quick, so subtle, that one could see it a dozen times and still get but a soupcon of the whole. But it's hip hop. How on earth can this work? You have to be there. 

Its creator Lin Manuel Miranda might be the Shakespeare of our age. The thing is, just see it, and let it wash over you, like a tidal wave. Less musical, more definitive moment in history. After 'Hamilton', things will never be the same.