I don’t know if I mentioned this, but on Saturday before going to Carol Leeming’s excellent singing workshop I went and spent my birthday present from Mark, which was a book token. Or rather, a Waterstone’s token (book tokens, like record tokens, don’t seem to exist any more) which according to the view just inside the door, could be spent on notebooks, sketch pads, cards, mugs, photo frames and coasters – oh, and I could buy a book if I really wanted. Determinedly penetrating the interior like some pith-helmeted Victorian explorer, I located a shelf of Proper Fiction and my eye lit immediately on a lovely volume of Alan Bennett’s entitled ‘Four Stories’. Very like him to be so prosaic, I thought.
I opened it up and saw that I had already read at least two of the four, ‘The Lady in the Van’ and ‘The Clothes They Stood Up In’ – but no matter. Bennett always bears re-reading and so, after a cursory examination of the shelves to see if they yielded anything else I really wanted, I plucked the volume from its resting-place and bore it to the counter.
On getting it home I realised that three out of the four stories were familiar to me as I had already come across ‘The Laying on of Hands’ somewhere – but I sat down to read anyway. In no time at all I had finished all four of them and I am now on my second go. But that’s the thing: with Bennett there’s always something to enjoy second, third, fourth time around. He is subtle and highly intelligent; and apart from The Lady in the Van which is all the more fascinating for being memoir rather than fiction, I recommend the story about a dying parent, ‘Father! Father! Burning Bright!’
Unlike Alan Bennett I am not great at writing for the theatre and have never attempted a theatre play, but I have occasionally ventured into the realm of radio drama. I guess it’s because I have a good ear for dialogue and not much sense of where things are on a stage – anyway, when I was deaf a couple of weeks ago, Mark and I took to writing our conversations down, and one of the things we discussed was, as ever, his gender dysphoria. After we had recorded one of these dialogues in my notebook it occurred to me that I could turn it into a radio play; so I now have a sheaf of ideas and some fragments of dialogue. I think the theme should grab the producers anyway: the play will feature a character called Leon who wishes to be known as Leonie. I’m finding it quite therapeutic.
So maybe I’m more like Alan Bennett than I know?