It is a very sad day indeed when a man is forced to realise that he is a bit of a wuss.
The scene was set. The audience had been admitted and seated in Christopher Wren’s wonderful Sheldonian theatre. Robert Streater’s ceiling fresco was resplendent in the afternoon sun that shone through the high windows. The atmosphere was crisp with tension.
I met Rachel Johnson (former editrice of The Lady magazine where I had spent all too short a sojourn as literary editor) outside, me smoking and wondering how to approach the event, Rachel only slightly flustered from having run half a mile from the Oxford Literary Festival green room in Christ Church. We shook a hesitant handshake, only slightly hampered by the razor sharp hatchet I was holding as a prop, a visual clue to the nature of the event, kindly brought by my helicopter pilot pal, Philip Amadeus.
It was our first public meeting since I had been unceremoniously liberated from my job, humiliatingly, in front of TV cameras there to film a documentary of Rachel’s first days in office, she having been tasked with revamping the publication and making it a more attractive offering to the modern ‘gal.’
I don’t think either of us quite knew how the event was going to pan out; whether we would end up verbally scrapping in an unseemly ‘he said/she said’ hour of unpleasantness or be able to engage in some jousting, bon mots and witticisms camouflaging a thinly veiled mutual dislike. As we took to the stage, it could have gone either way.
After I had introduced La J and her A Diary of the Lady and then briefly mentioned my own work, Saving Grace and the Unbound concept of crowd funded publishing, we were off.
And of course at this point I wish I could offer you a blow-by-blow reportage of our event’s finer points. But it turns out that participating in your own event is so very different from chairing someone else in theirs. In the latter case you are in command of the allotted hour, listening to the author’s answers to your questions, bringing all your knowledge and research into their life and work to bear in order to help them shine even more brilliantly in front of their adoring audience.
In your own event a blind panic descends. A visceral terror that every word you utter will reveal you to be the clot you know yourself to be. You risk an attempt at humour and the ensuing tumbleweed silence makes you want to run for the hills. I’m pretty sure that, as my mind turned to blancmange and my mouth glued itself together, I referred to myself as ‘Baul Plezard’ while hearing Rachel sound ever more lucid, witty and confident. I remember looking at the hatchet that I had placed on the table and seriously wondering if bringing my head down sharply on its gleaming blade might not be the more sensible course of action.
Those who were present tell me that there was an electricity between the two of us on stage. Some even suggested we would make a fine double act as radio show hosts – radio producers take note! For my part all I remember is that Rachel was charming, kind and even mentioned my book, something I think I singularly failed to do. I know that I walked away afterwards thinking kind thoughts about her, pleased that in the vote I conducted at the end the audience elected that we should bury the hatchet rather continue any enmity. But I also know that I didn’t have it in me to be horrid to her, didn’t go for the kill shot and in not doing so I felt, and still feel, a bit of a wuss.
So, if you were there, thank you very much for coming. If you have pledged for Saving Grace, thank you for your valued support. And finally, thank you to Rachel Johnson for being such a very good egg and playing nicely.
But just one small point Rachel, I have yet to see your name in the list of Saving Grace supporters on the Unbound site… would you care to redress this… and tell all your friends?
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