THREE STROKES OF LUCK
Three years ago, when I was first planning my new novel, I needed the name of a well- known MP for the opening chapter. I opted for UKIP’s high-profile Leader Nigel Farage. As the book progressed, Mr Farage’s popularity waned and he stepped down from the leadership. “Ooops, that’s torn it,” I cursed and began searching for another political household name. But then Mr F
suddenly bounced back. He became a close confidante of President Donald Trump, he formed the new manifesto-light Brexit party and he was all over the tabloids and the air waves. So retaining the reference to Nigel Farage in the book’s opening chapter was my first lucky break. My second stroke of luck came when I was working on a seating table plan for a luncheon at the Oval cricket ground and needed to ‘import’ a few celebrities. I decided to seat Ken Livingstone and Sir Nicholas Soames on either side of the book’s principal character, Aamir Kashani (much to the latter’s discomfort). I wasn’t to know that three weeks before the book’s publication, Soames would be one of the 21 Conservatives expelled from the party for rebelling over Brexit.
Lucky break number 3 occurs in the closing stages of the adventure and features an imaginary work by Banksy, now ranked as Britain’s most popular artist. I have been a Banksy fan for as long as I can remember. I was especially excited when, just before last Christmas, they found his image (painted overnight on the side of a local steelworker’s lock-garage in Port Talbot) of a
little girl burning papers in a brazier. The local authority plans to relocate the work in a new museum of street art. More recently, the London auctioneers Bonhams offered a 1988 Banksy- decorated Volvo lorry, once used by a touring circus company. Though its secondhand value today would be around £1,800, it failed to reach the £1.5-million guide price the auctioneers had set.
At about the time of the Port Talbot discovery, I was working on one of the concluding chapters to ‘I AM LUCY’, in which Lucy is travelling by train in the company of a retired school teacher, from London to Bristol. As the train approaches Temple Meads Station, their attention is caught by the sight of a huge derelict building. This is the ruins of the former Bristol Sorting Office,
which can still be seen from the slowing trains – though by the time this post is published, it will probably be motorway rubble. Lucy notices that stretching vertically up the grey concrete façade is a huge piece of colourful graffiti, depicting a little girl being lifted skywards, clutching five red balloons.
“Whatever is that?” Lucy asks her travelling companion. “That, my dear is a ‘Banksy,’” says the old lady proudly. “He’s Bristol’s most famous artist. He always does his paintings in the dead of night and then disappears before the authorities can catch him.” With a giggle she adds: “Isn’t it priceless?” Perhaps the reason why the old lady finds the composition so amusing (and topical) is because, carefully lettered onto the five red balloons is the political slogan ‘J C 4 P M’. This imaginary Banksy is on the back cover of ‘I AM LUCY’, which was published by YouCaxton in September
Banksy-decorated Volvo lorry; the graffiti which Lucy spots from her Bristol-bound
train. (Graphic: Althea Blake)
TWO of my favourite eccentric literary characters are the absent-minded Oxford don Dr
William Spooner and Mrs Malaprop, a snobbish character in Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’.
A Spoonerism is created through the unintentional rearrangement of syllables, resulting in a
meaningless statement. Dr Spooner once admonished one of his students: “You have
hissed all my mystery lectures” and is also said to have offered this advice to another
student, who was to be Best Man at a friend’s wedding: “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.”
Malapropisms are formed by the use in a statement of the wrong – but similar sounding –
word. Mrs Malaprop herself refers to “the allegories on the banks of the Nile.” And in this
century, a Texas governor, boasting of his state’s scientific achievements, spoke of “…our
lavatories of innovation.” Former US President George W Bush is probably the best known
of all exponents of the malaprop, with his boast: “People misunderestimated me” being a
classic example which even Mrs Malaprop herself would find hard to match.
Though I was tempted to include a Spoonerism or two in the text of my new book ‘I AM
LUCY’, I settled instead for three choice Malapropisms, all uttered by Audrey, the Cuban
housekeeper who works in the Barbican apartment of the sinister Mr Aamir Kashani. I will
leave you to unearth two of them for yourselves, but will own up to the third quoted being a
favourite of one of my relatives: a delightful verbal slip which no one has ever had the
courage to correct. Events that are disappointing or fail to come up to expectations she
always describes as “a bit of a damp squid.”
While malapropisms have gained in popularity immensely thanks to ‘missspeaks’ by politicians and celebrities (remember the sketch in which Ronnie Barker mangles up “fork handles” with “four candles”, a word play so clever that the organisers of his Memorial
Service had four giant candles on the altar), Spoonerisms seem to have faired less well and are surely due for a revival. So let’s end with a legendary Spoonerism.
The good doctor had made an arrangement to meet a former student for a drink at a country pub. He waited in vain for the man to arrive but left disappointed. Returning to his college rooms, he complained of his frustration to his housekeeper. “I waited for almost two hours,” he told her. “Where did you arrange to meet him, Dr Spooner?” she asked. “The Fox at Shipton,” he replied. Glancing at Spooner’s desk diary, the old lady told him: “You were supposed to be at The Ship at Foxton!”