On stories that should not be told
I'm starting to think that it should be compulsory to learn how to tell an anecdote, or at least develop some basic raconteuring skills. Thus armed, people will not only be able to know how to tell their tales and stories, and dress them so they have some interest for the wider world, but perhaps also learn when they should not tell them.
This thought flitted across my mind as I read AN Wilson's tribute to Beryl Bainbridge, who died last week. In particular, this anecdote jumped out:
Some years ago, I was sitting in a pub with Beryl Bainbridge and Peter Ackroyd. No one was drunk, exactly speaking, but an atmosphere of Gin Lane hung about our table. At this point, a beautiful, pure young woman, who, as Beryl shouted, was "a mere child", came into the bar. She approached our table with a collecting-tin, which she rattled. "Cancer Research". Beryl said that she had no widow's mite to contribute. Ackroyd shouted smut. The pure one looked a bit wounded, perhaps because her Cancer Research tin was scarcely visible through the haze of tobacco smoke being created by Beryl's and Ackroyd's fags. To console her, Beryl called her back.
"I'm sorry we've no small change, pet," she said. "But if it helps…" she waved the ignited cigarette melodramatically in the air, "I have got cancer."
When I said I felt sorry for the charity collector, Beryl coquettishly pretended I had designs on the girl. "You're very rude," she said in her ickle-girlie voice.
And my first thought on reading that was: why? Why have you put that it in? What was the need to share that?
I suspect that Wilson thought that he was showing something that was unique to her, comic timing, perhaps, or a grand guignol-ish sense of humour, which reinforced the darkness that is to be found amongst her comedy.
Instead, what there was was the sight of three of Britain's most eminent writers deliberately taking the piss out of someone who was trying to do something about the disease that ultimately killed one of them.
What it does, contrary to what Wilson thinks, is not show three wits at the height of their powers. It instead demonstrates 1) that north London can make wankers of us all b) that pub conversations should stay exactly as that and c) writers are generally mean, cruel and indifferent to feelings.
And I doubt that she'd had her sentimental streak eradicated to the extent that she'd want people reading that and thinking, 'what a cow'.