I remember a time when I used to travel regularly between Cornwall and London for my job as a project manager. I spent a lot of time on those long train journeys, thinking, writing, snoozing, watching movies on my work laptop and, just occasionally, working.
But one time really stands out because somebody ‘famous’ got on the train. And by famous, he played a regular character in The Bill. A hush fell over the carriage and we all did a mixture of double-takes, shy glances and knowing nods to the man. As the train trundled on, far from being a ‘please don’t talk to me, I’m somebody’ kinda guy, he got embroiled in a conversation about class and shared it with everyone around him. Actors are not known for their retiring nature.
He told us how lucky he’d been to get a scholarship to a grammar school from a mill town and that this good fortune had set him on a path he might otherwise never have realised – he’d been through some kind of drama school and trod the boards. Now, he said scathingly, he was doing relatively well, but there were plenty of others who hadn’t been so fortunate. Being – according to a magazine questionnaire a few years ago, slightly to the left of Gandhi, I was gratified to hear him speak about ‘the ones in the shadows’ – the starving actors, the downtrodden working class and the lamentable lack of real opportunity despite Tony Blair’s vision of a society where everyone can achieve.
Then things took a turn for the strange and our working class hero picked a verbal fight with a privately educated woman, seemingly on the basis of her cut-glass accent. He told her that she was the poorer for having never sat on a beach in Jamaica drinking beer with Yardies and that from her privileged surroundings she didn’t know what real life was like.
But what struck me, even after his outburst, was how we all regarded him as special because of what he’d achieved. It was as if we thought a little bit of magic dust would rub off on us if we lingered in his presence.
The link to writing (because you’re probably wondering when I was going to get to that part) is that a writer friend of mine has just managed to get a well-deserved and hallowed contract for her first novel. And while she has played it down to the hilt, insisting that it’s a small, independent publisher so the terms do not allow for a bottle of champagne right now, it’s still a brilliant achievement. I know without question that the rest of the writing group we belong to are absolutely thrilled for her. But we’re also wondering how (and perhaps whether) we can manage the same feat, as if there’s some kind of formula. Just in case, I’m going to write to her, asking for the hem of a garment, so I can have it made into a keyring!