Sunday, February 26, 2012
Starting the great unfinshed novel with a game of squash
Giving up my job after more than 20 years on newspapers, with just the occasional interruption, felt surreal. It still does.
But I had to do something to counter the increasing feeling that the world was passing me by. I had to counter the growing feeling of being a stranger in my own life. My consignment back to the night shift may have been the last straw, but I have watched enough straws to fill a barn drifting past me.
So, in many ways, I felt blessed to be back making those late night calls to dispatchers who would never tell me anything or to be back standing on a dark and beaten up street corner looking at the yellow ribbon of a shooting scene. It was what I did when I first started. It brought it home to me how irrelevant I had become and how utterly dispensable I was in the grand scheme of things.
There were subtle other signs such as the fact I could scroll through my twitter feed and read about the incident I was rushing back to get into tomorrow's paper, on a TV station website or some fly-by-night blog.
In the past I had viewed the idea of selling out to marketing or public relations as if it was some kind of betrayal but increasingly I found myself twisting in my own irrelevancy. For a while I deluded myself into thinking I could be Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one glorious package but it soon became clear a newspaper is as much as privately owned operation as a firm of accountants and there were always a myriad of political pressures and considerations going on behind the scenes.
Increasingly the idea of working for myself became attractive and when I secured a part-time legal marketing job it was the impetus to take the plunge. In my mind's eye I saw myself chasing the big story on my off days and finally seeing the bigger picture instead of being dragged down by the daily grind. But in reality I'll probably end up taking on too much and half killing myself for half a dozen masters or mistresses.
One unforeseen consequence of giving up the day job was an invitation to join a writer's group.
I worried then that I had overstated what I had achieved on my great unfinished novel when a group email was send out about my half finished book. In fact I wrote two chapters and appear to have lost them both in the murky netherworld of my computer. Still the writer's group is unbending and serious. Members send each other their latest chapters before meetings. In the down time this weekend between setting up the blog site for David L Macaulay Media and Marketing and Veritas Legal Media - sorry Blogger, I have so divorced you for WordPress, with the exception of Brits - I have fretted about starting the great unfinished.
So here's the deal. The great unfinished starts with extracts on Brits and goes from here. Enjoy - or tell me it's a load of bollocks. Whatever.
TITLE - TO BE DETERMINED
I can remember almost to the minute the first time I met Paul Moriaty. And that's unusual for me. Some days I won't just forget what I had for breakfast; I'll forget if I ever had breakfast at all.
I'm not sure why Moriaty was different but from the beginning there was an air that set him apart. It wasn't something he had, more like something that was missing and the aura about him that he had it once.
The time was just before 7 p.m. on June 3, 1995 and the place was Squash Court #3 at the Southgate Sports and Social Club. I don't profess to remember all of the details without paper props. The squash club had a list of times and places for the scheduled rendezvous otherwise known as squash games and Mildred, the secretary with the iron bound hair clips and severe blue rinse, was a stickler for players keeping their appointments.
I'm not sure how I first became drawn down the arcane halls of the sports club that smelled vaguely of rubber and boiled cabbage, although I had never seen a cabbage anywhere in their vicinity. But London is a city of more than seven million strangers who find themselves in odd suburbs of turn of the century homes and quiet trees, because they want to avoid ghettos like Edmonton. Then they find themselves staring out over chimney pots after dark, vaguely thinking about what happened to their dreams of streets paved with gold. So they eventually make a half hearted attempt to take action. They join squash clubs generally. Or do drugs.
Not earning enough to do drugs I found myself joining the squash club. I had always showed promise with the small racquet at school and had rather liked the thwack of the compact little rubber ball on the walls of the court and the mark it made if you hit it really hard. Mr. Rivas had told me I had good technique and had suggested coaching me after school. In the light of the later pedophilia charges brought, which I hasten to point out had nothing to do with me, I have since wondered whether his observation had anything to do with my progress as a player. But to this day I like to cling onto the notion it was a reflection of my ability as a player.
So one autumn night I found myself ducking in and out of the sharp gusts of winds that blasted leaves at me between the sycamores to the squat little building at the bottom of the park and signing up for the squash league. I wasn't the best player but I wasn't the worst. I had a competitive streak but also a natural modesty about winning. My will to win was cancelled out by my lack of a killer instinct.
While I came to know a lot of the players, Moriaty was just a name on the chart before the night he walked into Court #3. He was not much more than a name on the chart when he left, having beaten me with little discernible relish.
At 7 p.m. sharp the small door swung open and there he was in my court, a man of large if not immense frame who was probably a good decade older than me in his mid '40s.
"Moriaty," he grunted under dark brows and gave my hand a firm shake. In that single word I detected some breeding, the cadence perhaps of the parade ground or a second tier English public school.
But Moriaty showed no further interest in conversation. With an abruptness that would seem rude had he showed any interest in me, he tossed up the ball and served. Like a machine he progressed through a couple of sets. He won a close tie break but showed no outward signs of triumph. On a number of occasions I attempted to draw him in with banalities only to receive no response.
For a man 10 years older than me Moriaty had a strong serve and considerable upper body strength. He could also move effectively around the court even though his left leg had a knee support and there was a white streak like the stubborn hint of a scar from days gone by. There was something curious about this scar. It was like discovering a machine could bleed, I thought as he went through the production process of defeating me.
I didn't dwell on it. I normally find it to be bad squash etiquette to remark on a player's scar during the first game.
We seemed evenly matched but every now and then a disconcerting feeling would come over me that Moriaty was not playing at the top of his ability while I was stretching every sinew to keep up with his game.
I was conscious of the dampness of my hand and the dryness of his when we shook hands at the end of the game.
"Good game,"I said.
"Yes." And for a second a caught I caught a glimpse of his eyes. Curious. Green like emerald pools, a touch of the Irish perhaps. And then the small door snapped shut like a spring and he was gone.