Mind the Gap!

On Saturday I occupied a Coronation-free zone, not because I have any objection to a bit of Pomp & Circumstance, but because I have an aversion to watching daytime television.  You can never feel more spare nor redundant than when you sit in broad daylight watching reruns of Columbo and Murder She Wrote.  You transmogrify into a pensioner indifferent to personal appearance, in a threadbare suit and a cloth cap, eating a McCallum in the Silver Slipper or the Cosy Neuk, no longer rising to life’s challenges.  So I switched off all devices and I hunkered down to carry on revising my tome, the one that got put on ice on the brink of publication, when my publisher – well, stopped publishing, and instead went into administration.  Bit of an existential crisis, for me, and the rest of the stable, but what can you do?  Cast your bread upon the waters, and find another publisher.  I have a cunning plan.   

My self-imposed absence from the Coronation proved itself to be a source of inspiration.  I remember experiencing the same thing during the first lockdown in 2020, when our activities became very circumscribed.  All we could do, remember, was keep away from one another, put on a face mask and join a line of shoppers two metres apart outside the supermarket, and get some exercise within a five mile radius of the house.  Under that regime, I wrote a book in six weeks, putting down two thousand words in the morning, and taking a bucolic stroll in the afternoon.  I recall the spring weather was extraordinarily good, and the empty skies, the absence of the din of traffic, and the incessant birdsong were a revelation.  We discovered beauty spots in our immediate vicinity that we never knew of, and we all said, “We mustn’t go back to our bad old ways.”


During these afternoon strolls, further inspirations for my book came unbidden, and when I returned home I scribbled them down before I forgot them, and I would expand on them the following morning.  Despite everything, it was a rich time.

I recaptured some of that on Saturday.  Putting a completed tome on ice for a period might be a useful strategy at the best of times.  When you take it out and as it were defrost it, you read it with fresh eyes.  I knew, for example, that one particular chapter didn’t really work, but now I believe I have found a way to fix it.  And hopefully I did.  Then I went out and took a stroll round the skirts of Stirling Castle and got a further inspiration that allowed me to return home and solve another problem.  Of course solving a problem can have a knock-on effect and create further problems.  It’s a bit like playing with a Rubik’s Cube. 

When you get involved like this, the tome becomes all-consuming.  You can begin to neglect household chores, regular exercise, other hobbies and pastimes, and – most insidious of all – people.  You become preoccupied.  In his Booker Prize winning Amsterdam, Ian McEwan writes about a composer who believes he is on the brink of producing a work of genius.  He is out in the wilderness, utterly possessed by his art, when he comes upon, or thinks he comes upon, a scene in which a man is about to commit an act of violence upon a woman.  He does not intervene and he moves on.  Not that it matters one way or another, but his work of art turns out to be a dud.

Absolute concentration, the ability to focus intently on a labour of love, is a benison, but you should never allow it to blind you to the challenges that life will unexpectedly hurl at you.  You need to recognise a portal of opportunity, for yourself and for somebody else, and be prepared to drop everything in a heartbeat and walk through it. 

With that in mind, on Sunday I thought, it is churlish to stay holed up in this writer’s garret, and turn your back on the world.  So I went to Dunblane Cathedral and, as it happened, got a kind of digest of the Westminster Abbey ceremony, at least its spiritual content, and some of the music.  I confess I could have done without I was Glad.  Didn’t Lionel Logue say to King George VI in 1937 that he wouldn’t be glad, at least according to the film The King’s Speech, because it doesn’t half go on a bit.  I could have done without the Vivat! Vivat! section.  I believe it is optional.

Then I picked up the Souvenir Edition of The Sunday Telegraph.  I don’t normally take the Telegraph, but I thought the array of splendid pictures would give me a flavour of the day.  I’m always fascinated by the expression on the face of the King, the cocked eyebrow, the half-smile, an almost apologetic demeanour, and the sense that you and he are sharing some private joke.  I believe the King has a keen sense of the absurd.  Wasn’t he a great fan of the Goons?  It’s as if he is passing a subliminal message: isn’t all this pageantry and opulence utterly ridiculous?  Who knows, maybe the King is a closet Republican.

He and the Queen released a brief public message wishing everybody a safe and happy Coronation Weekend.  Oh, and, said the King, “Mind the gap.”  The sense of farce is never far away.  I could imagine a staunch Republican picking up on this remark and saying something along the lines of, “Aye, mind the gap right enough.  The gap between the rich and poor!  Who is paying for that solid gold state coach?  We are!”  I can’t say I can get enthusiastic about this particular form of anti-Royalist argument.  It always reminds me of Judas Iscariot, who was highly critical when a young lady wasted an entire bottle of precious spikenard anointing Jesus’ feet, and then rubbing the nard in with her hair.  Tut tut.  That precious ointment could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.  (One of the gospel authors felt compelled to add that Judas didn’t really care about the poor, but he held the purse strings and was hiving off a share for himself.  Artistically at least, I think the author would had better had left this remark out.)  Anyway Jesus gently rebuked him, and reminded him that the poor ye will always have.   

On Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday morning, a King Charles impersonator gave us some further public service messages concerning the vicissitudes of British Rail.  At least I think it was an impersonator, though I really couldn’t tell the difference.  Such is the modern world.  You can’t believe a word you hear, or a picture you see.  For all I know, the Coronation was computer-generated on a back lot in Hollywood. 

Back to the tome.  Cogito ergo sum.             

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