Optimistic though. I was listening to the racing the other day and the presenter mentioned a horse called Pandora’s Box and, showing erudition beyond anything he ever had hitherto, he explained that Pandora left us with hope – the last thing out of her box of evils, as a kind of dock-leaf to ease the stings. And I thought, that’s not really right, is it, at least not if I remember my Camus, back when existentialism was the way of feet-staring box-room rebels – before Ayn Rand, pornography and Playstation offered something supposedly more. Isn’t it that hope is the last and cruellest evil out of the box; that’s certainly why we never called her Hope.
My point is, you should never start your story by naming someone after a month. And certainly not before you’ve even decided what you’ve given birth to exactly. A heroine? A girl? A story? A kitten? A memory? A wish? Plus, you know, in these days of days, I guess the real question is, should we be breeding at all?
I’m writing this in my conservatory on an early morning in September (also a terrible name – in fact, here’s a note to all authors and parents – just don’t name your child after a month and, whilst we’re here, after a day of the week). On the table in front of me is a large vase of lilacs. They remind me of some lines by that dreary cat-lover and Jew-hater (or as he would have had it, jew-hater), TS Eliot, which if I remember rightly, goes:
“Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers whilst she talks….”
Such desperate courtliness and yearning and hopelessness and perhaps I’m getting too old for such things, for when I was young, I deemed this passage out of the ground brilliant. Whereas now I find myself cleaving ever closer to Karin’s dictum that the only good poet is a dead poet.
Besides, the thing that Eliot seems to have overlooked, and rather unforgivably at that for a poet, even a dead one, is that lilacs stink. Purple, huge, dramatic but smelling like someone’s tried to hide the smell of a decomposing mouse, by spraying cheap air freshener around the room. So, I’ve just moved the lilacs and put them on the landing. This act disturbed my wife who asked me what I was doing. I said, I’m sorry, these lilacs, they are properly making me ill. She laughed and said – seems so, considering they’re lilies. Not lilacs. That’s how it is. I’m always mixing things up.