Yet, despite the regularity of the work, in the mid-eighties I still felt as if it was all a larky distraction before I would return to writing of some sort. Or something. Fact was, I hoped I would never have to confront this dilemma – at least not in the next hundred and fifty years. This nebulous career plan was brought into clearer focus one day when I read a description of myself in a newspaper as ‘an old person’s young person’. That’ll give you pause, I can tell you. Another phrase that seemed to routinely be tagged to any press I got was ‘professional cockney’. I genuinely never understood what that was supposed to mean. I might concede to it if I were, like so many in the media, hiding some kind of public school background or an upbringing in one of the leafier parts of Surrey, but that not being the case I recognized it for what it was: the superior sneering of a relentlessly privileged middle-class industry. It’s a form of control, pure and simple. What they meant by ‘professional cockney’ was actually just ‘cockney’, and they really didn’t like the uppity working classes anywhere in their game unless they were in the canteen, post rooms or maintenance. I’m not sure if it has changed that much today. Even the most liberal university types go on the back foot when they meet someone who has simply got by on their wits, and they tend to feel threatened if that person is actually brighter than they are. So they resort to suspicion and the curled lip, attempting to denigrate this intruder by suggesting the whole ‘working class’ thing is an act and, really, all these ‘chavs’ have to offer is an accent. Thus even now you will read that someone is a ‘professional Geordie’ or ‘professional Scouser’; back in the eighties, you’d even come across a ‘professional black person’. Nobody who has come through the correct middle-class upbringing with the benefit of a few quid in their family coffers will ever be so disparagingly described. No, you’ll find they will simply be ‘professionals’.
While we’re here, I may add that, far from being a typical working-class ‘bloke’, I could never claim to be even marginally competent in the traditionally masculine field of home improvements. Away from a typewriter, latterly the computer keyboard, I am not only a disaster at DIY, I fancy I rather stand alone as the most clueless exponent of the handyman’s skills. This is another area where I am totally my father’s son. Though Dad was a terrifically hard worker, whether in the docks, clearing railway arches of rubble, or as part of an early morning office-cleaning gang, he could not for the life of him build, repair, install or decorate anything. Despite this, during the sixties he was given little choice in the matter, being required by Mum to wallpaper the front room in our maisonette roughly once a year. The rest of the family soon learned that it was absolutely essential for us to retire to another part of the house and cower in safety until it was all over. Like me, Dad had no finesse, no patience and genuinely believed you could inflict pain on any particularly finicky inanimate object that pushed you too far. I’ve no idea how many rolls of wallpaper it took to cover our small living room. Let’s say it was six. Dad, knowing how these affairs went, would order ten. This was because when a patterned section he was holding folded in on itself or refused to match up with one already in position, he could only achieve catharsis by furiously mashing it up into a ball, screaming ‘You dirty bastard!’ at it and throwing it across the room. Sometimes Mum would hear this happen four times in as many minutes and call out from the other side of the door, ‘You all right, Fred?’ to which he would explode, ‘No, I’m fucking not!’